World’s most detailed scans to reveal working of brain
Scientists have published the most detailed brain scans that the world has ever seen, as part of a project to understand how the organ works.
In the study, researchers involved in the Human Connectome Project have published the scans of 68 adults.
The researchers are hoping to scan 1,200 people and also collect their behavioural traits and DNA details.
The project leader, Prof David Van Essen of Washington University in St Louis, told the BBC that sharing the information with the international community of researchers would spur rapid advances in brain science.
Volunteers involved in the study have their brain scanned for a total of four hours and for part of that time, they carry out a battery of tasks, which include arithmetic, listening to stories, gambling and moving parts of their body.
Subjects also engage in tests that assess their skills and abilities and in addition, DNA samples are taken.
The scans, which are essentially a wiring diagram for each person’s brain, show how different parts are connected by nerve fibres and also the thickness of the bundles – thought to be an indication of the importance or strength of a particular connection- a so-called “structural map.
According to Oxford University’s Dr Tim Behrens, who is collaborating with Van Essen, the study will uncover which neural pathways are important in determining behaviour of humans.
The eventual aim of the study is to understand how a brain is wired and how differences between individuals make everyone unique – shaping their personalities and their capacity to think and feel.
By learning more about how a healthy human brain works, the study will be used to study brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.