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'Mind map' would guide brain explorers.

Big science should tackle its biggest task: unraveling the secrets hidden in the 100 billion neurons of the human brain, asserts a panel of neuroscientists and computer scientists in a report released June 27 by the Institute of Medicine. To expedite that process, the panel proposes an ambitious, federally funded "Brain Mapping Initiative" that would coordinate the vast amount of emerging data on the brain's molecular biology, pharmacology and function.

Organized by brain region, this "information atlas" would integrate a variety of neuroscience databases containing text, raw data and images. A researcher exploring a specific part of the brain could call up a plethora of relevant information -- such as journal articles, gene sequences and MRI images or PET scans -- all from a computer workstation in the lab. Such a comprehensive reference tool, says the panel, could help scientists unlock such mysteries as vision, pain, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease.

To determine the plan's feasibility, the panel recommends a five-year, $50 million initial phase to set up pilot programs across the nation for testing software and creating daatabases. The overall project, potentially international in scope, might take 20 years and assumes major advances in computer networking. Panelists say they cannot yet estimate a total cost.
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Title Annotation:Institute of Medicine panel report federally funded brain research
Author:Travis, John
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 13, 1991
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