Human Connectome Project: Discovering our Brain

The goal of the Human Connectome Project is to understand the connections of the healthy human brain to establish a baseline that helps identify connectivity abnormalities in brain disorders.

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The Human Connectome Project (HCP) was launched in July 2009 as a major challenge to the plan of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), worth 21, 3 million euros for five years. The main objectives of this project are:

  • Provide a compilation of neural data.
  • Offer an interface to navigate graphically in this data.
  • Draw conclusions never before made about the living human brain.

According to Hagmann:

“To understand the functioning of a network, its elements and its interconnections must be known (…). The connectome will greatly increase our understanding of the emerging functional processes from the brain structures and provide new insights into the mechanisms the brain uses if the brain structures are damaged.”

Now, before moving on: what is a human connectome? It is a mapping of the connections between neurons in the brain. Therefore, with this project what is being pursued is to build a network mapping on the connectivity both anatomically and functionally of the brain. That is, it is intended to know in detail all the brain circuits and their synapses.

In addition, not only that, but also it is intended to produce a set of data that facilitates the investigation of different brain disorders.

“None of your neurons knows who you are… It does not matter to you.”

-Eduardo Punset-

What is intended with this project?

Currently, the National Neuroscience Research Plan of the National Institutes of Health is launching a $ 30 million project that will use state-of-the-art brain imaging technologies to map healthy adult human brain circuits.

By systematically collecting brain imaging data from hundreds of people, the Human Connectome Project (HCP) will provide information on how brain connections underlie brain function and open new lines of research for human neuroscience.

“In the human mind, the number of possible connections that can be made between neurons is much higher than the number of atoms in the universe.”

-Alan Moore-

Recent data and research

Until now a single conectoma is known: that of a nematode (cylindrical worm). Your modest nervous system consists of 300 neurons. In the 1970s and 1980s, a team of researchers mapped their 7,000 interneuronal connections, that is, their connectome. Obviously, the human being is much more complex, since it has more than 100 billion neurons and 10 thousand times more connections.

New research from HCP team members suggests that brain circuits are organized more like the network of streets in Manhattan than the chaotic tangle of random roads in London. That is to say, in the same way that the map of Manhattan forms a perfect grid, our neural network is also ordered and aligned, instead of being entangled as we thought.

Several recent findings based on neurovisualization data from the Human Connectome Project and psychological data show that individual differences in brain connectivity can reliably predict a person’s behavior.

Thus, it is thought that, in the future, these scans may help doctors to personalize much more the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, as argued by the authors of these findings.

“The neurons are cells of delicate and elegant forms, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, whose flapping of wings who knows if one day will clarify the secret of mental life”.

-Santiago Ramón y Cajal-

Conclusions and curiosities about the Human Conectoma Project

The brain is still a complex organ that is in the focus of many scientists at the time of doing their studies, even for some it is still a black box of which little is known. For this reason, the Human Connectome Project is a good initiative, since it tries to clarify, with the best technological tools at its disposal, the functioning of the brain and its neural connections. In this way, we can eradicate many mental disorders.

At present, scientists know that many mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, are connectopatias; that is, diseases in which the wiring of the brain is anomalous. That is why we want to create a map of the human brain to help in the future to cure diseases such as epilepsy, because knowing its network we can act.