NET NEWS: Neuroscientists Link Up to Study Brain Diseases

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Science  26 Oct 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5543, pp. 751
DOI: 10.1126/science.294.5543.751d

The brain is a testament to the power of networking. Now neuroscientists are building their own high-speed network to battle brain diseases.

The Biomedical Informatics Research Network, which just received a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, will connect topflight labs at sites that include Harvard, Caltech, the University of California (UC), and Duke. Participants will be able to compare and analyze images stored in any of the network's databases and to pool data to boost sample sizes. One of the novel aims of the project is integrating images made across different scales and using different techniques, such as electron tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and various kinds of microscopy. To smooth the way for exchanging giant files, the network will rely on the speedy, capacious Internet 2.

The 3-year project will initially focus on two studies, says neuroscientist Mark Ellisman of UC San Diego, the principal investigator for the network's Coordinating Center. One group will scrutinize the brains of knockout mice that mimic multiple sclerosis and dopamine-scarcity diseases such as Parkinson's. The other team will hunt for early structural signs of disorders like Alzheimer's disease in human brains. As the project matures, Ellisman says, it will welcome more participants and expand to encompass data from genomic and protein studies. “My collaborators here at Duke are quite excited to be involved,” says G. Allan Johnson, who heads the mouse brain collaboration.

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