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Jan 28, 2013

The €1B Brain Model

  • The European Commission will award €1 billion ($1.3 billion) over 10 years toward research to create the world's largest experimental facility for developing the most detailed model of the brain.

    “The Human Brain Project” will use the advanced brain model to study how the human brain works, and ultimately to develop personalized treatments for neurological and related diseases. The project is led by Prof. Henry Markram of Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and involves scientists from 87 institutions in 23 countries, of which 16 are in Europe.

    In the U.S., the University of Tennessee Health Science Center will play a role in the brain project of assembling massive genetic datasets and building computer systems for the analysis of brain function and disease. “We will build a sophisticated tool kit for joint genetic studies of humans and mouse models of human brain disease,” Robert W. Williams, Ph.D., UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory professor in the department of anatomy and neurobiology, said in a UTHSC statement.

    Dr. Williams is one of four U.S. scientists to participate in the first phase of the Human Brain Project. The other three U.S. institutions involved in the project are the Allen Institute for Brain Research, the University of California Los Angeles, and Yale University. For his part of the HBP, Dr. Williams, and his collaborators in the United States and the EU could share funding of approximately €7.3 million Euros (about $9.8 million) over 10 years.

    Worldwide, the Human Brain Project will collect and integrate experimental data, with the goals of identifying and filling gaps in knowledge about the human brain. The project's results are designed to facilitate better diagnosis, combined with disease and drug simulation, as well as new techniques of interactive supercomputing driven by the needs of brain simulation.

    The project also aims to create devices and systems that are modeled after the brain and will overcome limits on the energy efficiency, reliability, and programmability of current technologies, clearing the path for systems possessing brain-like intelligence.

    “We know so little about the brain, but we know it affects so much about our health and well-being. Through incredible simulations this project will help us find new ways to diagnose and treat brain conditions, even opening the door to a new kind of computer—a computer that 'thinks' and works the way we do,” Neelie Kroes, the EC vp responsible for the Digital Agenda, said in remarks prepared for delivery at a press conference earlier today.

    The Human Brain Trust was one of two “Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship” projects to be awarded €1 billion ($1.3 billion) over 10 years from the EC. European Union member states and business partners are expected to match the EC award, sustained funding for which is expected to come from the European Union’s Horizon 2020, a seven-year €80 billion ($107.7 billion) research funding program proposed for 2014–2020.

    The commission narrowed its choices down from 21 proposals received in response to a call published July 20, 2010, then from a shortlist of six finalists that in October submitted detailed proposals, from which the two winners were chosen. Winners were judged in November and December by a panel of 25 experts including leading scientists, professors, a Nobel Prize laureate, industrialists, and former CEOs of multinational companies.

    The other project, led by Prof. Jari Kinaret of Sweden's Chalmers University, focuses on research into graphene, a carbon-based material—up to 300 times stronger than steel—that is believed to conduct electricity much better than copper.

    “Graphene is the new wonder material. It is likely to replace many uses for silicon and other materials, transforming not just electronics, but materials science, energy, transport, or health: you name it,” Kroes said in her speech. “You've heard of Silicon Valley? I want Europe to be home to its successor, Graphene Valley."


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