As the time for data collection and release approaches for the Human Connectome Project, excitement about the project is continuing to build. The scientific press has recently highlighted the project’s unprecedented scope and its anticipated achievements in articles covering scientific advancements to come in 2012.
New Scientist magazine names the Human Connectome Project as science to follow in its Smart Guide 2012: 10 ideas you’ll want to understand.
New Scientist: Smart Guide to 2012: Mapping the human brain
With 100 billion neurons, each with around 10,000 connections, mapping the human brain will be no easy feat, and charting every single connection could take decades. The HCP will tackle the lowest hanging fruit first: charting the major highways between different brain regions, and showing how these connections vary between individuals. To do this they will combine several imaging tools including something called diffusion MRI, which maps the structure of the white matter that insulates the “wires” of the brain, and also resting-state MRI, which measures how brain regions oscillate in unison as a result of shared connections.
The Economist included the HCP in its issue on The World In 2012.
The focus on the brain’s connections, rather than using scanners to simply look at which areas of the brain light up when we do different tasks, is itself a reflection of a deepening understanding that complex systems—whether the brain, the economy or society—are best understood as interactive, dynamic networks which operate as a whole. Olaf Sporns, a theoretical neuroscientist at Indiana University who was the first to propose that the human connectome should be mapped, thinks the project will open up a whole new way of thinking about the brain. “Perhaps we will have in the end a glimpse of the brain that reveals its basic plan,” he says. “And the whole structure will be much more understandable than it is now.”