A University of Minnesota researcher will co-lead a $30 million international effort to map the complex electrical/chemical connections of the human brain.
Kamil Ugurbil, director of the school’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), will help oversee the Human Connectome Project, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Blueprint for Neuroscience Research.
“On a scale never before attempted, this highly coordinated effort will use state-of-the-art imaging instruments, analysis tools and informatics technologies — and all of the resulting data will be freely shared with the research community,” Dr. Michael Huerta, director of the initiative, said in a statement.
While scientists now understand which regions of the brain control functions like reasoning, memory and learning, how these regions interact with one another is largely unknown.
The complexity of the brain and lack of adequate imaging technology have hampered past research on human brain connectivity, according to the NIH. The brain is estimated to contain more than 100 billion neurons that form trillions of connections with each other. Neurons can connect across distant regions of the brain by extending long, slender projections called axons — but the trajectories those axons take within the human brain are almost entirely uncharted.
By mapping these connections, researchers hope to one day develop ways to treat neurological disorders like autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s — a disease scientists suspect results from the loss of these connections.
Researchers from Oxford University, Indiana University, University of California at Berkeley, Warwick University, University d’Annunzio and the Ernst Strungmann Institute will participate in the effort.
CMRR is a key part of the university’s $292 million Biomedical Discovery District. The school is spending $53.2 million to add 65,000 square feet to the research center, which eventually will house one of the world’s largest and most powerful human imaging magnets — a 10.5 Tesla magnet capable of delivering the sharpest images ever seen through magnetic resonance imaging technology.