TAU Part of Team Launching Global Human Brain Project

TAU data-mining experts join top scientists in Switzerland to kick off ambitious neuroscience project

Between October 6 and 11, 2013, Tel Aviv University researchers participated in the kickoff in Switzerland of the Human Brain Project, a decade-long global initiative to leverage human intelligence and computing power to better understand the human brain. They joined neuroscientists, doctors, computer scientists, roboticists, and other scientists and professionals from more than 80 research institutions in Europe and around the world at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to refine the project's aims and celebrate its start. A major goal of the project is to create a simulation of the brain using supercomputers. The European Union is providing an estimated budget of 1.2 billion euros for the effort, one of two large scientific research initiatives the EU deemed to have visionary and socially beneficial effects.

The researchers – Dr. Mira Marcus-Kalish, TAU’s Director of International Research Affairs, and Prof. Yoav Binjamini of TAU's Department of Statistics, Sagol School of Neuroscience, and Edmond J. Safra Center for Bioinformatics — are part of a team contributing to the project on behalf of TAU.

"Many of the world's most accomplished researchers came together to launch this visionary project," says Dr. Marcus-Kalish, a principal investigator for the project and leader of the TAU group. "Our focus is to use TAU's unique expertise and all available knowhow to bring the benefits of the technological advances to the citizens who are supporting us."

TAU brings big ideas to life

The Human Brain Project is dedicated to advancing neuroscience, medicine, and computing technology. Participating researchers hope to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of brain function, new ways to detect and treat brain disease, and devise more powerful electronics.

The project, headed by Israeli neurologist Prof. Henry Markram of the EPFL, is divided into six research platforms and 13 sub-projects dedicated to everything from gathering data on mouse brains to exploring the ethics of brain research. The subprojects are further divided into hundreds of individual tasks.

The TAU group is responsible for the medical data analysis task within the "Medical Informatics Platform." Dr. Marcus-Kalish is a data-modeling specialist, and Prof. Binjamini is an Israel prize laureate and a sought-after expert in statistical modeling and analysis and clinical trials. Along with other top TAU scientists, they are aggregating and analyzing clinical data and recruiting hospitals to participate in the project. By making use of existing tools and developing new ones, they hope to identify patterns and trends in data taken from dozens of hospitals — including clinical tests, medical imaging, genetic data, and physiological tests — that can be used to predict, prevent, and treat neurological disease. A data-mining algorithm the researchers previously developed and a new method for clinical trials pioneered by Prof. Binjamini will play parts in their work.

An essential task

"I think our role in the Human Brain Project is among the most important," says Dr. Marcus-Kalish, who helped develop the project's medical focus. "We will be trying to improve human well-being through the understanding of neurodegenerative brain diseases. With the world getting older, this is more essential to society than ever."

The Human Brain Project is harnessing talent from leading universities, companies, and research institutions. Partners include the University of Oxford, Yale University, IBM, and Germany's Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, one of the largest interdisciplinary research centers in Europe.


For more neuroscience news from Tel Aviv University, click here.

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