The Helmholtz International BigBrain Analytics and Learning Laboratory (HIBALL) is a collaboration between McGill University and Forschungszentrum Jülich to develop next-generation high-resolution human brain models using cutting-edge Machine- and Deep Learning methods and high-performance computing. HIBALL is based on the high-resolution BigBrain model first published by the Jülich and McGill teams in 2013. Over the next five years, the lab will be funded with a total of up to 6 million Euro by the German Helmholtz Association, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives at McGill University. In 2003, when Jülich neuroscientist Katrin Amunts and her Canadian colleague Alan Evans began scanning 7,404 histological sections of a human brain, it was completely unclear whether it would ever be possible to reconstruct this brain on the computer in three dimensions. At that time, there were no technical possibilities to cope with the huge amount of data.
As brainy gatherings go, it takes some beating. Neuroscientists are meeting in New York today to agree on a global mission to understand the workings of the human brain and how to fix it when something goes wrong. The lofty aim of the Coordinating Global Brain Projects meeting is to unify worldwide efforts to study the brain, in the same way that international collaborations have spurred on astronomy, physics and genetics. "Neuroscience is coming of age, and it's now ready for big science," says Rafael Yuste at Columbia University in New York, who organised today's meeting with Cori Bargmann at Rockefeller University, also in New York. "This is the first real meeting with all the players in the same room together," says Yuste.
President Obama officially announced a new brain research initiative in a press conference at the White House this morning, something he first hinted at in his State of the Union address in February. In its first year, the project would devote roughly $100 million in public funding and a similar amount from private foundations, to develop new tools for mapping neural circuits. "The human brain is at the present time the most complicated organ in the known universe," Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told reporters on a conference call this morning. Understanding how circuits of neurons contribute to the complex properties of the brain and how they break down in disease is one of the biggest scientific challenges of our time, Collins said. "We aim through this very ambitious project, some might even call it audacious, to begin to unravel those mysteries."
Bobby Kasthuri has a problem. In an effort to understand, on the finest level, what makes us human, he's set out to create a complete map of the human brain: to chart where every neuron connects to every other neuron. The problem is, the brain has more connections than the Milky Way has stars. Just one millionth of the organ contains more information than all the written works in the Library of Congress. A map of the brain would represent the single largest dataset ever collected about anything in the history of the world.
Neuroscience is becoming big science, with the 2013 launches of the European Union's Human Brain Project and the United States's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnology (BRAIN) initiative leading the way. Last week, leaders of these massive, multi-institution projects and others around the world met at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, to discuss an even loftier goal: a global neuroscience collaboration that would link their efforts and rival big science investments in astronomy and physics. More than 60 neuroscientists from 12 countries pitched diverse visions for such a project at the meeting, sponsored by the Kavli Foundation and the National Science Foundation.