Home Web system Medical School Joins Major NIH Brain Mapping Effort – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Medical School Joins Major NIH Brain Mapping Effort – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

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Will help to understand how the brain works in healthy and sick

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Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are joining a nationwide network to map the intricacies of the brain, aiming to deepen understanding of brain function and generate new insights into brain function in healthy people – and how it malfunctions in Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism and many other conditions.

The new network, called the BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network (BICAN), is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The effort focuses on mapping the human brain, but also extends to the brains of non-human primates and mice, so researchers can see similarities and differences between species and better understand molecular and cellular mechanisms under underlying brain function.

The grants to the University of Washington will fund portions of two separate projects. One is led by the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, and establishes a global collaboration to map the 200 billion human brain cells by type and function. At the University of Washington, David C. Van Essen, PhD, former endowed professor of neuroscience and Matthew F. Glasser, MD, PhD, radiology instructor at the university’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, will create and analyze maps brains of individual people and non-human primates to determine the types of cells that make up each area of ​​the brain using data collected from people and animals scanned at collaborating sites.

The second project, led by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, aims to describe brain cells in unprecedented molecular detail, classify these cells into more precise subtypes, identify their location in the brain and to follow how the aging process can influence these characteristics. Ting Wang, PhD, of the University of Washington, Sanford C. and Karen P. Loewentheil Professor Emeritus of Medicine, will manage and analyze the project’s massive genomic datasets with collaborators from the University of California, San Diego and the University of California at Irvine.

Individualized brain maps

Van Essen and Glasser’s work for BICAN builds on the Human Connectome Project, a large-scale project led by Van Essen to map the connections within the human brain. Using methods developed for the Human Connectome Project and data from 210 people, Glasser and Van Essen identified 180 areas in each half of the cerebral cortex, which is the dominant structure of the human brain and is largely responsible for the functions that make of us unique humans. . They also developed machine learning methods to automatically map these areas in individuals using MRI data.

“The BICAN grant will add to this brain map an enormous amount of information about which genes are active and where they are active, and how they are coordinated and integrated,” Van Essen said. “It will essentially give us a much richer characterization of what distinguishes one area or part of the brain from another. Having this information for people without brain diseases will provide a basis for studying brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia that we know have a genetic component, but we don’t understand how genes contribute to the disorder.

As part of the new study, Van Essen and Glasser will analyze data from people who voluntarily donate their brains to research. As soon as possible after death, brains will be scanned by MRI and gene expression in brain cells will be measured. In a few cases, researchers will also have data from functional brain scans taken while the study volunteer was alive.

“The excitement around this project is reminiscent of when we started with the Human Connectome projects over 10 years ago,” Glasser said. “Now we are taking the next step by integrating cellular and systemic neuroscience. We will combine genetic mapping at the cellular level with functional mapping, for example, of the linguistic system and the visual system, to generate rich data that could advance research on all kinds of brain disorders.

Brain Atlas Computing

Wang is an expert on the epigenome, or the instructions that govern how genes are turned on or off in a given cell. He is part of a project to analyze the epigenetics of 1,500 brain samples from people of various ages, and Wang is responsible for managing the huge genomic datasets and developing new computational methods to analyze that data. .

“The scale of data production is going to be light years beyond anything we’ve done in the past,” Wang said. “So far, we have processed hundreds of thousands of datasets. We are now talking about millions. We will also use our experience in analyzing the epigenomes of other cell types, including cancer cells, for example, to build a detailed, comprehensive, high-resolution map of the human brain and what it does at the single cell level. ”

Wang and his colleagues have developed what is called the WashU Epigenome Browser, an online tool that allows researchers to search for information and data characterizing the epigenomes of many species, such as fruit flies, mice and various primates. , including humans. The browser also includes some single-celled organisms as well as the genomes and epigenomes of viruses, including Ebola and SARS-CoV-2.

“We plan to develop many technical innovations in web technology, browser development, as well as machine learning-based analytics tools, to make it easier to engage with this data for researchers who want to use it” , Wang said. .

About Washington University School of Medicine

WashU Medicine is a world leader in academic medicine, including biomedical research, patient care, and educational programs with 2,700 faculty. Its National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding portfolio is the fourth largest among U.S. medical schools, has grown 54% over the past five years, and with institutional investment, WashU Medicine is spending more a billion dollars a year for basic and clinical research. innovation and training. Its faculty practice is consistently ranked among the top five in the nation, with more than 1,790 faculty physicians practicing at more than 60 sites who also serve on the medical staff of BJC HealthCare’s Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospitals. WashU Medicine has a rich history of MD/PhD training, recently dedicated $100 million in scholarships and curriculum renewal for its medical students, and is home to top-notch training programs in every medical subspecialty as well as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and audiology and communication sciences.