As many readers of this blog will know, the Centre for Brain Research has a world-renowned Human Brain Bank. This incredibly valuable scientific resource provides scientists with the opportunity to discover vital clues about brain diseases. Tissue from the New Zealand brain bank is sought after by scientists worldwide, sparking collaboration around the globe. Advances in modern science often necessitate collaboration between researchers with unique resources and scientific approaches.
Such collaboration has recently been made even easier with the emergence of a human brain bank in San Diego that digitizes all their specimens. The full article about this Digital Brain Library is available here – well worth a read. Each brain that is donated to the library goes through the usual preservation procedure and is then sliced over several days into over 2,000 slices that are only microns thick. Once stained, each slice is photographed at an incredibly high resolution and then digitized. One important feature of the digitization step is that it creates an online library of all the brains reassembled into their complete structures. This allows investigation of whole-brain connectivity that is not possible with single slice specimens.
However, what I think is even more exciting, is the fact that the digital library is open access. Anybody, anywhere in the world is able to view and learn from these brains. The powerful potential of crowd-sourcing to utilize the ideas and motivations of the general public should not be underestimated. Indeed, the article points out that Google Earth has enabled amateurs to make some remarkable discoveries, even ones that scientists missed. Could this Digital Brain Library be the Google Earth equivalent to reveal some of the mysteries of neurological diseases?
The idea of sharing such knowledge and utilizing the collective ‘brain power’ of the population has exciting possibilities. After all, “with enough curious eyes on a big enough dataset, you never know what someone will find.”