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

Project News | October 26, 2010

HCP in the News: October 2010

The Human Connectome Project continues to pique the interest of researchers and neuroscience journalists around the world. Here is a sampling of prominent news items.

Dr. Kaku’s Universe (via Big Think): Mapping the Brain (The Human Connectome)

Dr. Michio Kaku explores many types of emerging sciences, and makes them accessible to a broad audience, which makes this article an interesting read, and one that has already been retweeted dozens of times.

We have long wanted to create a neuron-by-neuron map of the brain’s circuitry to give us a 3-D glimpse into its connections are, how they work and how the different parts of the brain talk to one another. This is called “reverse engineering the brain” and is one of the Holy Grails of artificial intelligence and brain research. Unfortunately, we are many decades from being able to understand the entire brain at the neural level. With all our medical advances, it is proving difficult to understand all the neural hook-ups of a fruit fly brain, let alone a human brain. But recently, a new promising step is being taken, compliments of MRI research.

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St Louis Post-Dispatch: Brain Mapping Study Centered in St. Louis

Georgina Gustin writes a very thoughtful and thorough overview of the WU-Minn project. (Alternate link at the Washington Post). She touches on the highest-level goals, as well as the local impact for Saint Louis, then goes deeper to describe some key milestones along the way. For example, Ms. Gustin speaks with Andrew Heath and Deanna Barch on an essential but seldom discussed part of the project: recruiting volunteers.

The second phase will consist of recruiting and scanning volunteers. Researchers will look for 1,200 volunteers consisting of twins and two non-twin siblings, so they can compare the brain structures of people who share the same heredity….

Volunteers will be screened on the phone, then asked to submit to a battery of behavioral tests. The idea, Barch explained, is to get a diverse group of healthy brains in the mix. “We want variability,” she said. “We want to collect the data that puts us in a good position to understand what’s normal.”

That will give researchers a baseline for understanding how brain circuits differ in people with mental illnesses, she said.

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SLU News: SLUNeurosurgeon Scans Brains for Landmark Wiring Map

An in-depth interview with Richard Bucholz at SLU sheds light on another key component of the WU-Minn HCP: the use of magnetic encephalogram (MEG) scans.

“Now that we have imaging equipment that offers virtually no risk to healthy individuals, the ability to analyze huge amounts of data with super computers, and a map the human genome, we can start to understand the brain, the most complex structure we have in the universe,” said Bucholz.

Used clinically in only a handful of facilities around the country, the MEG, housed at Saint Louis University Hospital, is a key part of the Human Connectome project, offering data about brain function, rather than structure.

Housed in a chamber that keeps out external magnetic waves, the MEG environment is opposite to the MRI’s. Instead of using magnetic force, the MEG is a magnetically neutral space. Free of outside forces, the MEG picks up the brain’s own magnetic wave activity. When patients are shown sensory images, like a picture, researchers observe which parts of the brain become active and identify the sequence of responses, essentially logging which parts of the brain sequentially react after seeing the image. Researchers distinguish working areas of the brain from low-functioning and abnormal regions. In this way, the MEG measures both brain function and abnormality.

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New Scientist: 50 Ideas to Change Science [Neuroscience]

Stepping away from micro-level examination of the project, HCP Investigator Tim Behrens, of Oxford, contributes a macro-level view on why this research will be a paradigm-changing force for scientific progress.

Understanding the routes by which populations of brain cells share information would be a major step towards understanding how our brains function. But although we can infer individual connections, we have no basic wiring diagram of the human brain.

Drawing a basic map of the brain would help us to understand how its regions interact to make behaviour.

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Posted by Will Horton @ 2:23 pm

Recommended Reading | September 14, 2010

Using fMRI to Predict Brain Maturity

One of the key missions of the study of brain imaging data is to be able to read into the landscape of the brain itself, and literally see whether or not it has fundamental weaknesses that might lead to brain diseases. A new article published in Science Magazine and co-authored by several HCP Investigators — Steve Petersen, Deanna Barch, Jonathan Power, Gagan Wig, and led by Brad Schlaggar — tries to advance this field by asking: can a single fMRI scan give us enough information to classify and make predictions about that individual?

The work described here had two major objectives. The first aim was to develop an approach for making accurate predictions about individuals on the basis of single fMRI scans. The second aim, building on the first, was to further illuminate typical brain development, a prerequisite for studying developmental disorders and pediatric-onset neuropsychiatric diseases (2, 3).

These researchers used multivariate pattern analysis tools (MVPA), a successfully established method of parsing brain activity during task-based activities: mapping the process of memory retrieval, or understanding how the mind associates meaning with nouns.

However, they faced an interesting challenge when working with a pre-adolescent subject group — the unpredictablity of task performance — and are pushing the envelope of MVPA by applying it to resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI), which can be gathered quickly and easily during times of rest.

The visual results of this pattern analysis are both striking and informative, as the researchers use functional connectivity data to determine measure the subject’s “brain age,” and to chart the maturation process from birth to full adulthood (age 30). This type of data visualization (Fig 1) allows researchers to characterize the typical trajectory of maturation as a biological growth curve.

However, a new view of brain activity emerges if we map the functional connectivity MVPA data over the actual landscape of the brain itself (Fig 2), and we get to see first-hand how the brain changes functionally as we mature.

Read the full article: Science Magazine: Prediction of Individual Brain Maturity Using fMRI

Science 10 September 2010:
Vol. 329. no. 5997, pp. 1358 – 1361
DOI: 10.1126/science.1194144