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Researchers seek funds to map human brain

A team of scientists, including Director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science and Professor of Neuroscience John Donoghue ’79, released a proposal Thursday that clarifies the goals and methods of the Brain Activity Map in the journal Science. The project has generated media buzz since February, when the New York Times broke the news of the “decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain.”

“This is really a bunch of scientists making a proposal to the government that we should take on an activity like this, of focusing on understanding how the brain works,” Donoghue said. “We know a lot about how neurons work as individual cells, we know a lot about how it works as a group … but the actual way it works, we don’t understand.”

The paper proposes three goals: the development of new tools to record activity from large groups of individual neurons, the development of tools to control individual neurons and the creation of systems to store and analyze the data collected that will enable scientists to “understand circuit functions.”

“Within five years, it should be possible to monitor and/or to control tens of thousands of neurons, and by year 10 that number will increase at least tenfold. By year 15, observing one million neurons with markedly reduced invasiveness should be possible,” the researchers wrote in their proposal.

“The goal here is to acquire some fundamental understanding,” said David Sheinberg, professor of neuroscience, who was not part of the group that wrote the proposal. “It’s a starting point for a lot more science.”