What is the Human Brain Project NIMH?

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The National Institutes of Health Blueprint for Neuroscience Research is launching a $30 million project that will use cutting-edge brain imaging technologies to map the circuitry of the healthy adult human brain. By systematically collecting brain imaging data from hundreds of subjects, the Human Connectome Project (HCP) will yield insight into how brain connections underlie brain function, and will open up new lines of inquiry for human neuroscience.

Investigators have been invited to submit detailed proposals to carry out the HCP, which will be funded at up to $6 million per year for five years. The HCP is the first of three Blueprint Grand Challenges, projects that address major questions and issues in neuroscience research.

The Blueprint Grand Challenges are intended to promote major leaps in the understanding of brain function, and in approaches for treating brain disorders. The three Blueprint Grand Challenges to be launched in 2009 and 2010 address:

  • The connectivity of the adult, human brain
  • Targeted drug development for neurological diseases
  • The neural basis of chronic pain disorders

"The HCP is truly a grand and critical challenge: to map the wiring diagram of the entire, living human brain. Mapping the circuits and linking these circuits to the full spectrum of brain function in health and disease is an old challenge but one that can finally be addressed rigorously by combining powerful, emerging technologies, " says Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which is part of the NIH Blueprint.

Scientists have studied the relationship between the structure and function of the human brain since the 1800s. Some parts of the brain serve basic functions such as movement, sensation, emotion, learning and memory. Others are more important for uniquely human functions such as abstract thinking. The connections between brain regions are important for shaping and coordinating these functions, but scientists know little about how different parts of the human brain connect.

"Neuroscientists have only a piecemeal understanding of brain connectivity. If we knew more about the connections within the brain – and especially their susceptibility to change – we would know more about brain dysfunction in aging, mental health disorders, addiction and neurological disease, " says Story Landis, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), also part of the NIH Blueprint.

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