The goal of the Human Brain Project is to pull together all our existing knowledge about the human brain and to reconstruct the brain, piece by piece, in supercomputer-based models and simulations. The models offer the prospect of a new understanding of the human brain and its diseases and of completely new computing and robotic technologies. On January 28, the European Commission supported this vision, announcing that it has selected the HBP as one of two projects to be funded through the new FET Flagship Program.
Federating more than 80 European and international research institutions, the Human Brain Project is planned to last ten years (2013-2023). The cost is estimated at 1.19 billion euros. The project will also associate some important North American partners. It will be coordinated at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, by neuroscientist Henry Markram with co-directors Karlheinz Meier of Heidelberg University, Germany, and Richard Frackowiak of Clinique Hospitalière Universitaire Vaudoise (CHUV) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL).
Swedish scientists have been involved since the very beginning, with Professor Sten Grillner of the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, as one of the Executive Directors and also leading the Neuroinformatics section of the project. Professor Jeanette Hellgren Kotaleski of KTH is Deputy Director of the Brain Simulation section, in which also Professor Anders Lansner of KTH takes an active part. In the Society and Ethics section Katinka Evers at Uppsala University serves as Deputy Director. All in all, The Human Brain Project will provide a major stimulus for the development of the knowledge of the brain and its many diseases, in Sweden as well as in a global perspective. Diseases of the brain, many of which are chronic (i.e. in psychiatry and neurology) are severe for the patients and their relatives, and responsible for no less than one third of the total costs for health care in Europe.
The selection of the Human Brain Project as a FET Flagship is the result of more than three years of preparation and a rigorous and severe evaluation by a large panel of independent, high profile scientists, chosen by the European Commission. In the coming months, the partners will negotiate a detailed agreement with the Community for the initial first two and a half year ramp-up phase (2013-mid 2016). The project will begin work in the closing months of 2013.
A scientific portrait of the Human Brain Project
The Human Brain Project will provide new tools to help understand the brain and its fundamental mechanisms and to apply this knowledge in future medicine and computing.
Central to the Human Brain Project is Information and Computing Technology (ICT). The project will develop ICT platforms for neuroinformatics, brain simulation and supercomputing that will make it possible to federate neuroscience data from all over the world, to integrate the data in unifying models and simulations of the brain, to check the models against data from biology and to make them available to the world scientific community. The ultimate goal is to allow neuroscientists to connect the dots leading from genes, molecules and cells to human cognition and behavior.
A novel medical informatics platform will federate clinical data from around the world, allowing medical researchers to unlock the clinically valuable information they contain and to incorporate it in computer models of disease. The goal is to develop techniques for the objective diagnosis of the brain’s diseases, to understand their underlying mechanisms and to speed up the search for new treatments.
Finally, the HBP will build new platforms for “neuromorphic computing” and “neurorobotics”, allowing researchers to develop new computing systems and robots based on the architecture and circuitry of the brain. The new systems will use detailed knowledge of the brain to address critical problems facing future computing technology: energy efficiency, reliability, the huge difficulties involved in programming very complex computing systems.
The HBP will fund independent scientists to use the new platforms for their own research, reserving a substantial part of its budget for this purpose. In brief, the HBP will create a CERN for the brain.