A Seattle Nonprofit is Mapping All The Cells of The Brain

A nonprofit research center in Seattle, Washington has announced a rather ambitious goal; the Allen Institute for Brain Science is setting out to map the brain.

Once the mapping process gets underway, the Allen Institute plans to make the findings available to anyone who wants access via an online database. Given how little we know about the workings of the brain, the Institute’s study has the potential to be a real game changer.

Mapping the Brain

As the Allen Institute’s president and chief scientific officer Christof Koch has pointed out, “How are we supposed to understand the brain and help doctors figure out what schizophrenia is or what paranoia is when we don’t even know the different components?” One thing we do know about the brain is that it creates memories by connecting different kinds of neurons via synaptic pathways. As we age, our brain form more neural connections as we learn new things. When we suffer severe brain trauma, our brains have to create new pathways that circumvent damaged areas of tissue. And we know that people who suffer from various neurological disorders like paranoia, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease have brains that behave in abnormal ways. Mapping the brain will give us a better understanding of exactly how those maladies effect the brain. 

A Pacemaker for Your Brain

What we don’t know is which kinds of neurons contribute to specific neurological conditions. If we did, we could develop entire new kinds of treatments for certain diseases and disorders. For example, instead of treating schizophrenia with antipsychotic medications that block out dopamine receptors, the disorder could be managed or even cured by a medical device that could regulate harmful brain synaptic transfers the way a pacemaker is used to maintain a healthy heart rate.

More Affordable Medical Treatment

Furthermore, by making their research freely available, the Allen Institute addresses a major issue making new treatments accessible to patients who sorely need them. Because new pharmaceutical drugs spend around 15 years in federally mandated clinical trials, big drug companies have to spend billions of dollars in research and development costs before introducing their products to the public. With information gleamed from the Allen Institutes findings, a wide array of companies, including those in the emerging field of bio electric medicine, can save millions of dollars in and R&D. As such, newer, cheaper and more effective treatments that don’t require a consistent can be made available to sufferers at a reduced cost. 

The Changing Face of 21 Century Medicine

At this point, it’s hard to gauge what impact the Allen Institute’s brain mapping research will ultimately have. Many facets of the neurological system are still undiscovered territory, medically speaking. In the earlier years of the 20th century, Austrian biologist Karl Landsteiner discovered and categorized the main blood groups, thus paving the way for the advent of transfusion medicine. That medical advancement has saved millions of lives. It’ll be interesting to see what effect the discoveries made by Dr. Koch and his group will have on this century.