The “Blue Brain” project, is a collaboration of IBM and Swiss University team, aims to create a digital reconstruction of the mouse brain by reverse-engineering mammalian brain circuitry.
The work was presented at the European Future Technologies meeting in Prague. Construction of building the complete digital brain is not completed yet but has passed most of the key milestones. There are reasons why such a brain wasn’t reconstructed in the pass 10 years.
It is an effort to create the first computer simulation of the entire human brain, right down to the molecular level and to identify the fundamental principles of brain structure and function.
A detailed simulation of a small region of a brain built molecule by molecule has been constructed and has recreated experimental results from real brains.
It may also help in understanding how certain malfunctions of the brain’s “microcircuits” could cause psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression
Milestones passed by the “ Blue Brain” project
First Milestone was achieved in 2007, they were to able to reconstruct the electrical behaviour of the neuron recorded in the brain. Also the software that supported the modelling of neuron was released. This was an important milestone because it allows us to automatically capture the realistic behaviour of millions and even billions of neurons; an essential step to building a whole brain, which has approximately a hundred billion neurons.
Second Milestone was an algorithm that can recreate the connectome of a microcircuit of neurons and allowed to capture the way neurons are connected in the brain and the 3D location of millions of synapses.
Third Milestone was to bring the different types of neurons and synapses together as a microcircuit, which was demonstrated in the form of the most biologically realistic copy to date of a neocortical microcircuit — the “CPU” of the neocortex. It demonstrated the extent to which and the accuracy one can predict missing data, because it revealed the first glimpse of the cellular and synaptic map of the most complex microcircuit in the mammalian brain, and because it provided a proof of concept, for building larger circuits such as brain regions.
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Fourth Milestone was to validate and explore the emergent dynamics of the microcircuit in milestone three. This was a key milestone because it showed, for the first time, they could integrate all available data about a cortical microcircuit into a digital reconstruction that would give rise to a complex array of network states comparable to that observed in real circuitry.
Fifth milestone passed was to solve a decade-old problem of mathematically growing the shape of neurons (their morphology).
Sixth milestone passed was to validate that the methods developed to build microcircuits can be generalised to building a brain region with curved shape and differences in cellular composition and synaptic properties.
Seventh milestone passed was an algorithm to connect the 11 million or so neurons in the mouse neocortex. This was a very challenging milestone because the data was very sparse.
Eighth and ninth milestones were to validate that the algorithmic reconstruction approach works outside of the neocortex, which tested by reconstructing the thalamus and hippocampus, with publications in preparation. These milestones were important because they meant that the processes and algorithms that had developed for the neocortex also work, with some adaptation, for other brain regions.
Tenth milestone was to build a full cell atlas of every neuron and glial cell in the whole mouse brain.
In short they have established a solid approach to feasibly reconstruct, simulate, visualise and analyse a digital copy of brain tissue and the whole brain.This foundation took a long time to develop. It consists of solving how we database the brain, how we algorithmically and automatically build the brain in its digital form and how to simulate, visualise and analyse such a complex system. This involved building a huge ecosystem of software, discovering and developing many algorithms that can exploit inter-dependencies and establishing rigorous standard operating procedures that we must follow to build a digital copy of the brain.