Researchers at Stanford University in the US have developed a technique to make the brain see-through, allowing them to trace individual neurons, and their sometimes far-flung connections, from end to end. They’ve succeeded in doing so with an entire mouse brain and portions of human brains. To get light through the brain to reveal neural connections, scientists replaced the light-blocking fat cells.
Watch a fly-through video of the clarified rodent brain…
Meanwhile, the US government in 2014 is investing R1 billion in Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN). The BRAIN scientists want to chart the simultaneous functions and activity of the brain’s 100 billion neurons and its 100 trillion synapses at an unprecedented resolution.
Understanding the brain’s circuitry could lead to better treatments for dementia and other neurological ailments, as well as developing mind-controlled prostheses and computers that “think” like humans. The Americans’ National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and DARPA will contribute to the project, expected to cost billions more over the next few years.
Meanwhile, in your brain…
What scientists already know:
When brain signals need to travel long distances, they take the highway. Researchers at the USA’s Indiana University and the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands have uncovered high-capacity pathways that form the backbone of the neural network, facilitating communication between far-off brain regions.
The variance in how different areas of the brain express the same genes may play a role in shaping the brain’s architecture. Icelandic Heart Association researchers discovered a gene that’s overactive in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, disrupting the activity of many other genes.
Deep brain stimulation:
Some diseases interrupt the electrical signals neurons use to communicate. In deep brain stimulation, implanted electrodes deliver weak impulses to the brain, changing how neurons fire. The technique, a Parkinson’s disease treatment since 2002, may also be effective against depression and bipolar disorder.
Electrode implants allow patients paralysed from the neck down to operate thought-controlled robotic arms to independently drink coffee, eat chocolate, and reach out to a loved one. Better understanding of the motor cortex’s circuitry may unlock new prosthesis abilities.