A Look at the Allen Institute for Brain Science

A comprehensive understanding of the brain is an important line item for future medical development, as the research community will have to develop ways to repair the brain and reverse aspects of its aging while preserving the structures that encode the mind. Here is a look at one of the higher profile projects of recent years: "Paul Allen, the 59-year-old Microsoft cofounder [has] plowed $500 million into the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a medical Manhattan Project that he hopes will dwarf his contribution as one of the founding fathers of software. The institute, scattered through three buildings in Seattle's hip Fremont neighborhood, is primarily focused on creating tools, such as the mouse laser, which is technically a new type of microscope, that will allow scientists to understand how the soft, fleshy matter inside the human skull can give rise to the wondrous, mysterious creative power of the human mind. ... His first $100 million investment in the Allen Institute resulted in a gigantic computer map of how genes work in the brains of mice, a tool that other scientists have used to pinpoint genes that may play a role in multiple sclerosis, memory and eating disorders in people. Another $100 million went to creating a similar map of the human brain, already resulting in new theories about how the brain works, as well as maps of the developing mouse brain and mouse spinal cord. These have become essential tools for neuroscientists everywhere. Now Allen, the 20th-richest man in America, with an estimated net worth of $15 billion, has committed another $300 million for projects that will make his institute more than just a maker of tools for other scientists, hiring several of the top minds in neuroscience to spearhead them. One effort will try to understand the mouse visual cortex as a way to understand how nerve cells work in brains in general. Other projects aim to isolate all the kinds of cells in the brain and use stem cells to learn how they develop. Scientists think there may be 1,000 of these basic building blocks, but they don't even know that. 'In software,' Allen says, 'we call it reverse engineering.'"

Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2012/09/18/inside-paul-allens-quest-to-reverse-engineer-the-brain/


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