NIH Blueprint: The Human Connectome Project

News and Updates

Project News,Recommended Reading | January 6, 2014

NY Times articles provide an “inside-the-scanner” look at HCP

The largest scale effort is the Human Connectome Project, involving a consortium of institutions here and abroad

A 3D rendering of reporter Jim Gorman’s brain constructed from his HCP structural MRI scans

Although many start their careers as scientists, it’s rare that a science reporter actually gets to participate in a scientific project. Last summer, New York Times reporter Jim Gorman got that chance, and wrote about it in two articles published today in the New York Times.

The Human Connectome Project hosted Gorman and his videographer at Washington University in St. Louis to get first hand experience with what it feels like to be a participant in the project and shoot a video about the experience.

In the article “The Brain, in Exquisite Detail”, the reporter profiles the project through conversations with HCP investigator Deanna Barch, director of the team that guides participants through the battery of in-scanner and out-of-scanner tests used for HCP. In the video, Dr. Barch explains:

What we’re doing in this project is pretty different in a couple [of] ways. We have really state-of-the-art techniques and equipment that are going to let us do this in a much finer-grained way than has ever been done before.

We’re going to be studying approximately 1,200 individuals across a wide range of things like education levels, and income levels, people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, so we can have a much better sense of the kind of “true normal” range of brain connections …

Some of it is just basic science, trying to understand how the brain works and how the brain contributes to how we behave, but a lot of it has clinical application.

In “A Search for Self in a Brain Scan”, Gorman offers a more personal, and philosophical angle on what it is like to be scanned and, ultimately, to be able to look at images of your own brain.

Gorman was treated to several hours of MRI scanning, physical, behavioral, and cognitive tests, just as if he were one of the 1,200 participants being scanned for the HCP. Between scans, he talked with HCP investigators and research assistants about what he was experiencing, what can be learned from the data we’re collecting, and the significant effort required to process the data and make it available to the public.

A few examples of detailed brain visualizations afforded from the high resolution of the HCP MRI scans are featured, along with Jim Gorman’s journey through the scanner, in the article’s video:

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Posted by Jenn Elam @ 9:20 am

Recommended Reading | November 5, 2012

NIH Director blogs about the HCP

NIH Director Francis Collins expressed his enthusiasm for the Human Connectome Project in a post on Nov 5th to the NIH Director’s Blog entitled “The symphony inside your brain”.

Dr. Collins calls connectome science “one of the most exciting areas of rapid progress in biomedical research”, focusing on the unprecedented way in which the HCP is looking at the brain’s structure in its entirety, making an analogy to the experience of listening to a whole symphony orchestra, rather than the string or brass section separately. He also highlights the possibilities this basic science project has to advance research on many brain disorders whose etiology is currently elusive.

Here is an excerpt that encapsulates his hopes for the HCP effort:

NIH Director Francis Collins

NIH Director Francis Collins

With a detailed connectome map of a normal human brain, I believe we will gain a better understanding of the roots of human neurological disorders, including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and other baffling conditions that may arise from abnormal “wiring” during brain development. This knowledge should yield new and better ways to detect, treat, and, ultimately, prevent the brain disorders that currently disrupt and devastate so many lives.

The connectome will also give us a new tool to explore how genes influence the brain’s connections—and how behavioral and environmental factors act to sculpt those connections, affecting everything from our ability to solve crossword puzzles to our risk for addiction.