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Mind map study matters

IT IS the control panel of the human body. But how much do we really know about the brain and how it controls wellness, disease, or behaviour?

The answer is very little, although that will soon change thanks to one of the most ambitious research projects launched.

In April US president Barack Obama announced the government would allocate $100 million in the next financial year to support the Brain initiative also referred to as the Brain Activity Map Project.

The real cost of this project is estimated to be $300 million a year for 10 years with other interested parties contributing.

Sometimes compared to the Human Genome Project in its scope and potential impact on medicine, Brain's aim is to map the activity of about 100 billion neurons.

What the study finds could assist medical researchers with developing better treatments for autism, clinical depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson's and other brain conditions.

Apparently scientists are keen to further unravel the brain's workings because of an emerging realisation that thoughts, memories, consciousness and brain disorders result from communication among networks of neurons, according to a recent article in the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Anyone who has read neuroscientist and pharmacologist Candace Pert's pioneering research on how the chemicals inside our bodies form a dynamic information network, linking mind and body, will already understand the complex working of neurons has numerous effects on our state of being.

But how else will this emerging knowledge about the brain change society?

Late last year IBM announced the world's grandest simulation of a brain, all running on a collection of 96 of the world's fastest computers.

The project, code-named Compass, aims to simulate the brain of a monkey.

It is part of a long-standing effort known as neuromorphic engineering, a field dedicated to building computers more like brains and, theoretically, improving artificial intelligence.

It seems more knowledge of how the brain actually works will be as lucrative for those charged with building ever-smarter computers as well as to the medical community.


At a glance

  • Your skin weighs twice as much as your brain.
  • The brain is made up of about 75% water.
  • There are anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 synapses for each neuron.
  • There are no pain receptors in the brain, so the brain can feel no pain.
  • While an elephant's brain is physically larger than a human brain, the human brain is 2% of total body weight
  • The human brain is the fattest organ in the body and may consists of at least 60% fat.


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