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  • Saanvi Jain

Human Connectome Project

In July of 2009, the Human Connectome Project was launched. This project was designed to help compile a variety of neural data in order to better understand the human body. In essence, the Human Connectome Project will allow scientists, researchers, and medical professionals to learn more about the functional and anatomical neural connections and networks that channel thought, feelings, and behaviors in vivo, or within living organisms. This data could help make ground-breaking progress in the research of neural disorders such as dyslexia, autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and even more.

The Human Connectome Project was originally a five-year project developed by the National Institutes of Health as the first in the organization's three main Neuroscience Research programs. This project has since been awarded two big grants of over $38.5 million in total. In addition, they also received an extension from the original five years that were given to complete all the needed research.

The project is split into two consortia, or groups, of research institutions including the WU-Minn-Oxford consortium and the MGH/Harvard-UCLA consortium. Both these consortiums have three major categories that are ground-work for their studies including Healthy Adult Connectomes, Lifespan Connectome Data, and Connectomes Related to Human Disease. The Healthy Human Adult Connectomes study is used to support theories discussing the interaction between different parts of the brain and how they connect to one another. The Lifespan Connectome Data study is meant to study the brain connectivity of other populations besides young adults. This includes infants, adolescents, and aged individuals. The Connectomes Related to Human Disease study focuses on very specific diseases and how brains change during the progression of these diseases. Some of the major diseases studied through this study are Alzheimer's disease, dementia, anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders, epilepsy, and psychosis.

The WU-Minn-Oxford consortium was able to collect multitudes of data through MRIs and even behavioral data from 1,200 adults after developing extremely advanced MRI technology that was made to map the connectivity in human brains at new levels of spatial resolution. The data of the subjects showed both the functional and anatomical connections of the separate brain parts, and their relation to the behavioral test data of each subject. The consortium came to the conclusion that there are contributions of both genes and the environment in the observations. Unfortunately, these observations can only be shared with other researchers and are not available to the general public as of now.

On the other hand, the MGH/Harvard-UCLA consortium focused on the utilization of modern MRI technology like diffusion MRIs in order to image the brain's structural connections. The diffusion MRI technology, as suggested by the name, tracks the movement of water to map the long distance connections of the neural networks, specifically white matter. Due to the different types of cells having different water patterns, a variety of tissues is detected through this technology. It is known that the scanner built at the MGH site in order to complete this project is 4 to 8 times more powerful than standard scanners. This allows there to be more clear imaging of the neural pathways and white matter that is being studied.

Thus, the Human Connectome Project has an extremely bright future since its discoveries could potentially lead to revolutionary research and insight on various brain disorders that scientists, researchers, and medical professions are still seeking answers for. Once this project is completed, these professionals may be able to better understand brain conditions such as ADHD, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and much more in order to find answers for possible treatments and maybe even cures.

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