International Brain Projects Considered

Dozens of scientists from around the world gathered in Baltimore this month to discuss ideas for ambitious global neuroscience projects

BY:National Institutes of Health

Summary: Dozens of scientists from around the world gathered in Baltimore this month to discuss ideas for ambitious global neuroscience projects.

Since the launch of the US BRAIN Initiative and the EU Human Brain Project, the idea of global participation in large-scale neuroscience projects has gained considerable momentum. Australia, Canada, and Denmark have all joined the US BRAIN Initiative as formal partners. In addition, Japan has launched a nationwide initiative focused on marmoset brain research and China is preparing to announce its own national brain project.

In an attempt to channel some of this excitement about brain research into a single international collaboration to tackle a major neuroscience project, more than 60 scientists from 12 countries met at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md, earlier this month. Science magazine’s Emily Underwood wrote a story about the meeting, which was sponsored by the Kavli Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Underwood reported that the goal of the meeting was to discuss big projects worthy of worldwide participation. Some of the diverse ideas centered on curing a single disease such as depression or Alzheimer’s, while others focused on creating highly detailed maps of neural connections within the human brain or describing the detailed neural circuitry involved in the production of a single complex behavior in a mammal.

According to Underwood, three basic research questions emerged as topics of interest: what makes individual brains unique; how the brain’s many components orchestrate learning and task performance; and how to leverage the brain’s plasticity towards protecting and restoring brain function.

In addition, a central point of discussion at the meeting was figuring out a better method for vetting, sharing, and storing neuroscience data. The attendees’ proposals for such a method converged on an online resource tentatively called the International Brain Station that would serve up enormous neuroscience datasets to researchers and the general public.

The scientists will meet again in September to finalize their proposal, which will then be presented a couple of weeks later to global leaders at the United National General Assembly to gather support and funding for the proposed project.

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