White Matter: mapping the brain

Image courtesy of flickr.com member Patrick Hoesly

Human beings, by nature, like order. You might be thinking of a messy roommate/sibling/friend and strongly disagree, but regardless of our (un)cleanliness, we all like to know where we are in the world. Why else do you think those “You Are Here” stickers on maps in malls and amusement parks are so comforting? We need maps to give us a sense of organization among the chaos.

And so it makes sense we would want to map out one of the most mysterious frontiers ever encountered: the brain. Luckily, scientists at University of California, Los Angeles, and Massachusetts General Hospital have paired up to work on the Human Connectome Project (HCP). Besides having a very cool name, the HCP aims to “construct a map of the complete structural and functional neural connections in vivo within and across individuals.” Understanding these connections is crucial to understanding the brain. The project also provides an immense amount of data that can be used for further research into developmental disorders like autism and schizophrenia.

Even though people have studied and experimented on the brain for hundreds of years, very little is known about how all of its parts work together. Now thanks to the HCP, we’re closer to figuring out where to put that big, red “You Are Here.”

Allison Nonko


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