Eight Israeli brain researchers at three local universities will be part of an
international project – similar in scope to the Human Genome Project of the
1990s – to increase understanding of the human brain and its hundreds of
diseases, from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia, so that treatments and cures can
eventually be developed.
The European Commission announced at a ceremony
in Lausanne on Monday that it had chosen the Human Brain Project (HBP) as one of
two Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship topics.
selection as a FET Flagship is the result of more than three years of
preparation and a rigorous evaluation by a large panel of independent, high
profile scientists, chosen by the European Commission.
They will meet and
discuss their collaborative work every few months.
The project, based at
the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, will receive
funding of 1.19 billion euros over the next 10 years. It will be headed by an
Israeli, Prof. Henry Markram, who joined EPFL a decade ago after graduating from
the Weizmann Institute’s Feinberg Graduate School.
More than 80
universities and research institutions in Europe and the rest of the world will
be involved in HBP, which will begin later in 2013 and continue until
The local Israeli section of the project is led by Prof. Idan Segev
of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at the Hebrew
University; Prof. Yadin Dudai of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Dr. Mira
Marcus-Kalish of Tel Aviv University. Segev is an expert on brain simulation
(from his work on the Blue Brain Project), while Dudai specializes in cognitive
functions and social impact and Marcus-Kalish in databasing.
supporter of the idea, President Shimon Peres said that “Israel has put brain
research at the heart of its efforts for the coming decade, and our country is
already spearheading the global effort towards the betterment of our
understanding of mankind. I am confident that the forthcoming discoveries will
benefit a wide range of domains, from health to industry, as well as our society
as a whole,” Peres said.
“The human brain is the most complex and amazing
structure in the universe, yet we are very far from understanding it. In a way,
we are strangers to ourselves. Unraveling the mysteries of the brain will help
us understand our functioning, our choices, and ultimately ourselves. I
congratulate the European Commission for its vision in selecting the Human Brain
Project as a Flagship Mission for the forthcoming decade,” said Peres.
major part of the program is to collect data on the brain using a variety of
advanced research approaches and build models of brain activity through the use
of supercomputers even more powerful than those in use today, Segev told The
Jerusalem Post before flying to Lausanne on Monday.
“This will enable the
attainment of a deeper understanding of the brain and its illnesses, and at the
same time make possible development of powerful computer technologies and
brain-driven robotics. This is a historic moment,” he said.
explained that new computer hardware has to be developed, as it takes a huge
amount of energy to cool it so that brain functions down to individual neurons
can be simulated.
“A new generation of computers has to be created that
will not have energy problems. The human brain,” he continued, “uses the amount
of energy of a 12-watt bulb. But the computers for understanding [the brain]
need an incredible amount of energy.”
Neuroscience is producing huge
amounts of data based on specific aspects of the healthy and diseased brain in
different species and at different ages. But despite these incredible advances,
the project’s organizers said, “we still lack a unified understanding of the
brain that can span its multiple levels of organization, from genes to cognition
This, they said, will require the development of new types
of computing to collect and manage the information, integrate it in computer
models and brain simulations, identify patterns and organizational principles
and recognize gaps to be filled by new experiments.
Diagnosis of brain
diseases is often based on physical symptoms and is possible only in the late
stages of disease, when no cure and little treatment are available.
will contribute to the medical informatics area in the HBP.
will focus on developing novel rule-based tools, together with controlling the
false discovery rate (FDR), to characterize human brain impairment by
neurological disease. The broadest view on all relevant features will be
provided, enabling the development of data-based diagnostic tools, as well as
tools to predict the success of potential treatments.