The most detailed map of the human brain ever completed is now available for perusal online, giving neuroscientists a greater understanding of how cells are grouped and arranged inside the brain. The project, called BigBrain, “imaged the brain of a healthy deceased 65-year-old woman using MRI and then embedded the brain in paraffin wax and cut it into 7,400 slices, each just 20 micrometers thick. Each slice was mounted on a slide and digitally imaged using a flatbed scanner.” While MRIs are limited to a resolution of about one millimeter, the BigBrain atlas allows scientists to zoom in to a level of 20 micrometers.
What’s the Big Idea?
While the initiative, funded by the European Human Brain Project, is limited in several ways (funding was provided for only one brain, so no comparative studies are possible, and despite its impressive technical achievement, it cannot answer questions about brain activity or function), neuroscientists say it is an important resource for future research. “One of the larger goals of several brain initiatives worldwide is to integrate different kinds of data about brain structure and function, he says, and to create computational models of the brain to study processes such as childhood development or neurological diseases.”