The world’s two biggest brain mapping projects are to join forces. The EU’s €1bn Human Brain Project (HBP) and the United States’ $1bn BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) will start to collaborate later this year.
Details are yet to be provided, but the effort will start this summer and will include all of the BRAIN Initiative’s government partners — the NIH (National Institutes of Health), the NSF (National Science Foundation) and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Henry Markram, who directs the HBP at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), says that Israel’s brain initiative will also be involved.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that the research programmes cover as much ground as possible without duplicating each others’ efforts.
The US and EU projects have complementary missions: BRAIN aims to create tools for imaging and controlling brain activity, while the HBP seeks to create a working computational model of the entire brain. Just as the HBP needs brain data to design its model, so BRAIN needs a system for integrating its massive amounts of biological data so that it can generate something meaningful.
Some researchers working on BRAIN and HBP have already begun to coordinate their research informally. The Allen Institute for Brain Research in Seattle, Washington — a BRAIN Initiative partner — has published papers on neural simulations it produced in collaboration with the HBP.
It won’t be straightforward. An executive vice-president at the Kavli Foundation in Oxnard, California says, “It’s not easy to share data even within a single lab. Imagine if you want to share it with everybody.”