I come from a generation that grew up with the movie "Fantastic Voyage" in which a submarine crew is miniaturised to enter the body of an injured scientist to repair the damage to his brain. The movie was based on a novel by Isaac Asimov who also wrote its sequel "Destination Brain".
Both movies and novels greatly influenced my choice of professional life as I wanted to be either a neuroscientist or a rocket-scientist. Ultimately I chose to become a rocket scientist but I always remained fascinated by neuroscience.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending, together with high level scientists and policy makers, a workshop debating on the future of neuroscience: "Understanding the human brain – a new ERA of big neuroscience"
This event was organised by the European Parliament Office for Scientific and Technological Option Assessment (STOA) and it presented the captivating advances of the three large-scale brain initiatives supporting research in the EU, US and Japan: the Human Brain Flagship project, the Brain initiative and the Brain/MINDS project.
I was very pleased to hear that these initiatives see the benefit to join efforts to speed-up the exploration and the understanding of the human brain's mysteries.
A first important step towards this international collaboration in brain research is the intent between the EU and the US to offer transatlantic mobility grants to researchers. This will allow them to integrate research groups in the EU's HBP Flagship partner research labs or in the US National Institute of Health (NIH).
Today we estimate the number of people all over the world suffering from neurological disorders to one billion. It is therefore essential to boost research on the human brain to discover ways to treat and even prevent its diseases. With its billions of neurons and thousands of billions of synapses dynamically interconnecting them, the human brain is an extremely complex system producing a massive amount of data that only big science can analyse and exploit.
This is why supercomputers, big data analytics and cloud facilities are a must! They are essential for scientists to aggregate knowledge and enable data mining. We can use them to simulate, verify and elaborate theories to explain the functioning of the brain.
The promising results presented by the three major brain research initiatives on this global challenge, each with their own specificities, are truly fascinating.
When ICT meets medicine
The Human Brain Flagship project is putting in place a cutting-edge ICT-based scientific research infrastructure to allow researchers to advance our knowledge in the fields of neuroscience, computing and brain-related medicine. The US Brain initiative is accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies that would help researchers produce a ground-breaking new dynamic picture of the brain that shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space for different cognitive functions and tasks. Finally, the Brain/MINDS project aims to map the structure and function of neuronal circuits to ultimately understand the vast complexity of the human brain.
I witnessed yesterday a strong motivation to push the boundaries of brain research further, beyond geographical frontiers and most importantly, beyond the frontiers of science. Only by collaborating, can we demystify the most fascinating scientific challenge of our times.
Should you wish to learn more about these 3 brain initiatives together with other initiatives from Canada, Australia, China, Korea, I invite you to read the interesting Volume 92, issue 3 of the Neuron Journal published on 2 Nov. 2016.
If you want to see all the presentations and the panel discussions, watch the recordings of the workshop.