July 16 - German and Canadian scientists have built a three dimensional map of the human brain to help guide researchers investigating the origins of diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The ''human brain map'' shows the organ in unprecedented detail, as Rob Muir reports.
The Big Brain is a three dimensional map showing the human brain in greater detail and higher resolution than ever before. Created by scientists in Germany and Canada, it shows individual sections of the brain on a molecular level, giving researchers across a range of related fields, unprecedented access to the body's least understood organ. Leading the ongoing project is Dr. Katrin Amunts from the Juelich Research Centre. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KATRIN AMUNTS, JUELICH RESEARCH CENTRE, SAYING: "You can imagine that this 3D model of the human brain is something like Google Earth but here we speak about Google brain, you can zoom in, you can look to specific regions of interest and analyse these regions." Producing the Big Brain model was a time consuming task. After setting the healthy brain of a deceased, 65 year old female into a block of parafin wax, it took the researchers a thousand hours to slice and digitally image 7400 sections of brain, each slice just 20 microns thick. The images were then uploaded to a computer which turned them into the 3-D brain model. Dr Amunts and her team hope that through the model, disease researchers might be able to find clues to the origins of neurological disorders like Alzheimer's or Parkinsons disease. SOUNDBITE) (English) KATRIN AMUNTS, JUELICH RESEARCH CENTRE, SAYING: "Well the human brain model is a tool for basic neuro science at the very beginning and it is clear that we need to have a profound understanding of how the brain is functioning and how it is structured before we can address questions about changes and diseases, neurological or psychiatric diseases." But Amunts says the 3D map is just one element in a much broader worldwide effort to learn as much as possible about the inner workings of the human brain. Scientists from 23 countries are involved in the Human Brain Project, which within ten years, hopes to replicate the anatomy, functions and cellular interactions of a healthy brain on a super-computer for all to see.