Blue Brain Project (BBP)
Blue Brain is a Brain Research Initiative led by Founder and Director Professor Henry Markram.
Founded in 2005 within the Brain Mind Institute of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the aim of Blue Brain is to build accurate, biologically detailed, digital reconstructions and simulations of the rodent brain and, ultimately the human brain.
After theory and experimentation comes simulation. Simulation science is the evolved phase of many of the sciences (physics, astrophysics, chemistry, materials) and engineering (automotive, aerospace, energy, nuclear weapons, manufacturing, etc). The Blue Brain is attempting to push neuroscience into the phase of Simulation Neuroscience.
Simulation Neuroscience is fundamental to understanding the brain is a complex multi-level system and is the biggest Big Data problem we have today. There are so many parts in the human brain (20’000 genes; potentially > 200,000 different proteins, more than a billion molecules in a single cell, around 100 billion neurons, 1000 trillion synapses, and over 800 different brain regions) and even one brain changes as it develops, matures and ages, it changes because of what we experience and what we eat. Each brain is also different and each species has a different brain and each brain at each stage is vulnerable to a different set of diseases. No theory or experiment can work out all these interactions and understand all these differences.
Putting all these pieces together is the only way we can understand the brain and how it goes wrong in diseases. Simulation Neuroscience is the attempt to put all the pieces together. Putting these pieces together helps understand the many chains of events responsible for the brain's emergent behavior at different levels of organization, up to and including cognition.
Therefore, the supercomputer-based simulations and reconstructions built by Blue Brain offer a radically new approach for understanding the multi-level structure and function of the brain.
Blue Brain has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers in international journals since it started in 2005.
In 2015, Blue Brain reached a major milestone that demonstrates the power of its approach with the publication of the largest neuroscience study ever published to date. Blue Brain’s first draft digital reconstruction of neocortical microcircuitry (Markram et al, 2015), demonstrates the feasibility of building and simulating a digital copy of a part of the brain and demonstrated that multi-disciplinary big science in neuroscience is feasible (82 scientists contributed to the study).
The paper, which appeared in the journal Cell, represents the most complete description of any neural microcircuit to date. It provides a complete digital map of all the cells and synapses in a block of neural tissue; and it describes simulation experiments replicating a range of previous in vivo experiments (studies using a whole, living organism as opposed to a partial or dead organism), without having to tune any of the model parameters. In other words, a digital copy of a part of brain behaves like a real part of the brain.
The most significant advance that this study makes is actually as a new method of science. It proves that one does not need to measure everything in the brain to infer and reconstruct it in all its details. This is the advance that makes it in principle feasible to reconstruct the human brain even though we can never measure all its parts.
Building on the success to date, the goals for the next phase of Blue Brain are threefold - science, translational and dissemination.
Science – build larger areas of the brain (the neocortex and its input brain region the thalamus) and at higher resolution (the molecules inside of each cell). By practicing the method on the mouse brain we can find out how to build the human brain with minimal data.
Translational – building on Blue Brain’s current research strengths, driving translational research with a focus on applications of neurological disorders, neurotechnologies and machine learning (computers having the ability to learn without being specifically programmed). Blue Brain will launch 1-2 spin off companies in the next four years.
Dissemination – continuation of open collaboration through delivering Open Sourced models and tools to the scientific community through the platforms of the Human Brain Project. Ultimately to catalyze community collaboration on reconstructing and simulating biologically detailed models of the brain.