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Engineering, brain architecture and neuroscience XXI century

Javier defelipeEste año, on Course opening ceremony 2011/2012, we have had the presence of Javier DeFelipe, Cortical Circuits Laboratory (CTB), we gave an interesting lecture on the status of the project “Cajal Blue Brain” entitled:

Engineering, brain architecture and neuroscience XXI century“.

An interesting video that addresses the difficulty of the project, and plotted current research in the field of neuroscience.

Inaugural Lecture Course Opening Event 2010-2011 of UPM

There are only two ways to get to know a machine: One is that the teacher who made show us his artifice; the other is to dismantle and examine its smallest parts separately and as a combined unit.
Nicolaus Stenonis, 1669

"Engineering, brain architecture and neuroscience of the century "

Javier DeFelipe, Cortical Circuits Laboratory (CTB),
UPM, Campus Montegancedo
and Instituto Cajal (CSIC), Madrid

One of the fundamental goals of neuroscience is to understand the biological mechanisms responsible for human mental activity. No doubt that the brain is the organ most interesting and enigmatic human being, because it not only governs our body, but also controls our behavior and enables us to communicate with other living beings and our environment.

En particular, structural design study of brain circuits and how these circuits contribute to the functional organization of the cerebral cortex is the great challenge of science in the next century, because it represents the foundation of our humanity; namely, the cerebral cortex activity is related to the capacity that distinguishes man from other mammals.



Thanks to the development and evolution of the cerebral cortex are able to perform tasks as extremely complicated and specifically human like writing a book, compose a symphony or develop technology.

Certainly, science has advanced spectacularly in recent decades, allowing the study of the brain from all angles-genetic, molecular, morphological and physiological-, although we have only beginning to unravel some of the mysteries that encloses.

Surprisingly, still no answer to some key questions in neuroscience, for example:

  • What is the neural substrate that causes people to be human?
  • How the brain is altered and why schizophrenia occurs, Alzheimer's disease or depression?
  • How the brain integrates information processed simultaneously in different cortical areas to produce a unified perception, continuous and consistent?

All these questions, and many others still lack of response, despite the current scientific breakthroughs. For these reasons did the Blue Brain project, which dates back to the year 2005, cuando The Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (Switzerland) and IBM jointly announced an ambitious project to create a functional model of the brain by reverse engineering the mammalian brain (using the Blue Gene supercomputer, IBM), in order to understand its functioning and dysfunction through detailed simulations.

Late 2006, Blue Brain project had created a model of the basic functional unit of the brain, the columna neocortical. Sin embargo, the goals set by the project, that is marked within 10 years old, imposed its conversion into an international (“The Blue Brain Project”, Nat Rev Neurosci. 7, 153-160, 2006).


Forest of neurons modeled by GMRV :: Group Modeling and Virtual Reality URJC

In this context that in January 2009 Cajal Blue Brain project, It is where the Spanish participation in the project, led by the University of Madrid (UPM) and the National Research Council (CSIC).

By and large, Blue Brain Project is based on the idea that some scientists argue that to understand the functioning of the brain is necessary to first obtain a detailed map of the connections between its different regions (connectome), and synaptic connections between neuron populations or individual neurons (sinaptoma).



This large-scale reconstruction and at different levels of neural circuits, "Connectome and sinaptoma", soon be possible thanks to recent technological advances for the acquisition and processing of experimental data.

Although the scientific community is divided regarding the feasibility and validity of the hypothesis, is important to note that already raised similar objections when first proposed the Human Genome Project, which is now considered as an unqualified scientific achievement of great magnitude.

One of the strengths of the Cajal Blue Brain project is that all laboratories and participating research groups are coordinated, so that the effort is channeled towards achieving a specific goal, using strict methodological criteria common.

So, the data generated in a laboratory can be used effectively for the other research groups. Ultimately, Cajal Blue Brain project is structured and works great as a multidisciplinary laboratory. This project is enabling significant advances in the knowledge of architecture and normal brain function, that will undoubtedly serve to explore solutions to mental health problems and currently untreatable neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.



In fact, as Alzheimer's disease primarily affects the cerebral cortex, believe that the participation of human and technological equipment Cajal Blue Brain project can be of great value to approach its study globally.

The impact of this disease has many implications, one, perhaps not the most important but the most easily quantifiable, is its cost in the health system, and hence the economy of a country, as the cost of the disease depends not only on direct healthcare costs (hospitalization, medication and treatment), but also direct health care costs (residences, therapists and social assistance) and indirect (family resources, economic and human).

The global format, the economic impact of Alzheimer's disease in Spain is estimated at 15.000 million, almost double the profits of some large Spanish companies, begin even before the economic crisis.

The course of the disease varies, since neuropathological alterations are not homogeneous among patients or between different regions of their brains. The clinical and neuropathological lesions (senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) are mainly concentrated in the cerebral cortex, but due to the limited data available on synaptic circuits normal human brain and Alzheimer's disease patient, mechanism (the mechanisms) basic cognitive impairment remains unknown. In fact, the correlation between cognitive impairment and the presence of plaques and tangles appears limited.

Thereby, the research capacity to address the scope to propose solutions for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease requires mandatory structuring an ambitious in their approach. You need an interdisciplinary approach in which the public and private initiatives are aligned in the pursuit of research and development lines of innovative and integrated leading to a knowledge of the process of the disease itself, evolution, appropriate therapies and, ultimately, his prediction early and preventive treatment.

Effective collaboration to articulate in the study of Alzheimer's disease, Cajal Blue Brain project has raised close collaboration with the Alzheimer Center Reina Sofia Foundation, AFALcontigo Association (National Alzheimer's Association) and various institutions, among which include the Center for Molecular Biology Severo Ochoa (CSIC-UAM), Biomedical Technology Center of the UPM, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Complutense University of Madrid and the University of Antioquia in Colombia.

The main objective is the microscopic mapping of the entire brain of patients with Alzheimer's disease to be integrated with detailed information on the clinical, genetic, molecular, Functional and conditions associated with this disease. Ultimately, formulary is to create a digital brain for analyzing the disease globally from this information multidisciplinary; for it is necessary to solve new technological challenges and manage a number of unique resources in order to achieve:

  1. The development of computational tools for the creation of a database containing clinical information (analytics, neurology, psychiatry, psychology), epidemiological, functional neuroimaging (MRI, tractografía, EEG y MEG), morphological (confocal and electron microscopy), all through integrated information systems.
  2. The design of new methods and technologies Software development to allow management specific, see and explore in an interactive and This formulary intuitive digital and multimodal wealth of information integrated.
  3. The proposed new computational techniques and comprehensive analysis of the information allowing raise new hypotheses about disease Alzheimer's from emerging information of multivariate data analysis, multidimensional and multimodal integrated in this formulary.

Taking this information on Alzheimer's disease on the formulary yorganizada obtained digital, and thanks to the tools and tecnologíadesarrollada, The project proposes the means for:

  1. Design and conduct cross-sectional studies on disease, using information from different sources.
  2. Allow hypotheses about the evolution of the disease and the most development intricate.
  3. Link to this disease researchers working with other sets of patients, samples or methods, that can complement or take the information gathered by the project and supporting technologies developed.
  4. Simulate and recreated by means of different techniques in-silico models of the disease and possible treatments.

Thus, claim that the organizational structure of Cajal Blue Brain project serves as a model of international research, well fulfilled our aim to show that the bridge established between neuroscience and the technologies developed at the UPM is essential to increase research capacity and significantly advance the study of architecture and normal and pathological brain.

Text (UPM)

Cajal Blue Brain: Brain molecular simulation