A scientist at a Scottish university is to play a leading role in the world’s largest research programme to study the workings of the human brain, it was announced today.
Professor Seth Grant of the University of Edinburgh will head the molecular research element of the European-funded £1 billion Human Brain Project.
The 10-year study aims to pull together existing knowledge about the human brain and to reconstruct it, piece by piece, in supercomputer-based models and simulations.
The new computing and robotic technologies will give scientists a better understanding of the brain and its diseases.
Clinicians involved with the project will study patients with brain diseases, which cost the European Union more than £800 billion each year.
Professor Grant, who will oversee over 20 of the UK scientific institutions among the 80 international bodies taking part in the project, said: “We will be deciphering the molecular structure of the human brain and mapping the circuits of nerve cells.”
This will provide the foundation for supercomputer models of the human brain and the design of computer chips and robots.
Information and computing technology will be at the core of the project making it possible to amalgamate neuroscience data from all over the world, integrate the data in unifying models and simulations of the brain, and check the models against data from biology and to make them available to the world scientific community.
The ultimate goal is to allow neuroscientists to connect the dots leading from genes, molecules and cells to human cognition and behaviour.
Professor Steve Furber of the University of Manchester, an expert in the design of computer chips based on the brain, said: “Understanding how the brain processes information remains one of the great frontiers of science.”
Professor Alex Thomson of University College London, who studies the synaptic circuitry that underpins many models of the brain, said: “The brain is both the most exquisitely beautiful and efficient machine and the most frustratingly difficult to understand. Only a multi-dimensional approach can hope to render its complexity accessible to therapy and imitation.”
The project, which will start at the end of the year, is one of two research programmes to be funded through the new FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) Flagship Program.