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Latimer: Getting closer to mapping how the brain functions
The human brain is one of the final frontiers in medicine.
It is such an incredibly complex organ, communicating via trillions of individual neuronal connections, that it’s no wonder we still have a long way to go before fully understanding the way the brain works.
Although our knowledge of the architecture and function of the human brain has advanced significantly over the past three decades with the help of technology and ongoing research, there is still much to learn.
One group of scientists in New York are bringing us closer to getting a complete picture as they study the circuitry of the mouse brain and attempt the first full wiring map of a vertebrate brain.
In June, the Mouse Brain Architecture project published its data online in order to share information with other scientists as well as interested members of the general public.
It is hoped that as we get a complete picture of the circuitry within a mouse brain, it will serve as a model for other mammalian brains and also shed light on the way the human brain communicates.
Knowledge gained in this project could help in the study of human diseases such as Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, depression and addiction.
In the Mouse Brain Architecture project, tracer agents are injected into the tissue and then scientists produce high definition images of each section of the brain.
Each brain is made up of about 500 images. Researchers also add information from other published data sources and everything is available to neuroscientists and the public.
If you are interested in taking a look at some of the images published so far, visit www.mouse.brainarchitecture.org.
The site has been described as a virtual microscope where you are able to see inside a mouse brain and zoom in to individual neurons and their processes. It is truly fascinating.
On the site, you can also learn more about this project as well as browse through many related journal publications.
I believe that through projects such as these as technology continues to advance and we gather more and more data, we will one day have a much more detailed understanding of how the human brain functions and how its processes affect our behaviour and every aspect of our health.
The more knowledge we gain, the more specific and individualized our treatments will become and the better the prognosis for the many people who experience psychiatric illness.
Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.