IDIBAPS at CCCB: Helping to decipher the brain

On 30 September, as part of the "Big Bang Data" exposition at the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB), Dr. Albert Compte, head of the IDIBAPS team Theoretical Neurobiology of Cortical Circuits and Dr. Jaime de la Rocha, researcher at the same group, taught the workshop "Helping  to decipher the brain? Large-scale projects to decipher the brain". The participants in this activity were able to see firsthand which tools are available for investigators in neurosciences and the use of large databases for advanced research in this field. They also contributed, through different applications, to know a little better how the brain works.

The workshop was divided into two parts. In the first one, researchers from IDIBAPS reviewed the different models used for research, from experiments with few individuals and highly controlled conditions, to the use of large databases. In this sense, they explained which are the major global projects for the study of the brain: the Human Brain Project, an ambitious initiative of the European Union to understand the brain and the diseases that affect it and get to build a computer simulation the human brain; and The Brain Initiative, the project of the USA, which focuses on the generation of new technologies to record all the dynamics of the brain in real time. They also explained the smaller collective initiatives for helping investigators to advance in their research which would be later used in the practical part of the workshop.

Thus, in the second part, the practical workshop, Dr. Compte and Dr. de la Rocha explained the participants three tools that can bring together large amounts of data and thus to advance the understanding of brain function. One of them, the EyeWire, is an application designed at the MIT in Boston to decipher the connectivity between neurons in the retina through online gaming. The second, the Neurosynth platform, allows the meta-analysis in the field of neuroimaging, since it includes data from more than 9700 studies and allows the validation of brain activation patterns that researchers suggest from images obtained by functional magnetic resonance. The third tool the participants in the workshop used, is a neural network simulator called BRIAN which, by introducing a series of simple instructions on a programmer, allows the simulation of artificial neural networks and get to know how they react to external stimuli and spontaneously evolve as well to understand how they can be the basis of brain function.

The workshop taught at the CCCB introduced students, researchers and those people interested in neuroscience into how research is conducted in this field and presented the possibilities offered by several initiatives and projects that take advantage of the Big Data approach.