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Paul Allen-funded research yields brain map


Paul Allen-funded research yields brain map

nickj April 13, 2011

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen has invested and unveiled a multi-million dollar project that is being hailed as a "GPS for the brain."

The new "anatomically and genomically comprehensive" map of the human brain will likely impact research into Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, autism, as well as other neurological diseases, according to CBS News.

"Until now, a definitive map of the human brain at this level of detail simply hasn't existed. For the first time, we have generated a comprehensive map of the brain that includes the underlying biochemistry," said Allan Jones, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

Dr. Jones calls the brain the most complicated and important organ of the human body. What is so unique about this new three-dimensional map is that it shows the location of genes as they are being expressed.

The researchers used two normal adult brains as models for constructing the brain map. They took into account about 1,000 anatomical marks and 100 million data points, according to the Wall Street Journal.

One amazing discovery from this measure of brain activity is that for any two human brains, the similarity in neural activity is about 94 percent.

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was completed in 2003, achieving its goal of identifying the genes that make up human DNA. According to the U.S. Department of Energy Genome Program, there are about 20,000 to 25,000 genes in humans.

More than 80 percent of those genes are active in the brain, according to researchers of the brain map.

"We feel confident that we are giving a good average picture of the human brain to the people who are mining this data," said Jones.

The brain map – or brain atlas – has already provided about 4,000 scientists with insight into brain anatomy. The project is expected to expand and include other brains in the archive, including female brains, according to the WSJ.