Do Electric Rats Dream of Cheese?
A group led by Dr. Henry Markram in Switzerland is working on building a computer model of the brain. Initially, the group modeled a single rat cortical column. Now, however, they are working to construct an entire rat brain using as many as 100,000 cortical columns. Of course, in the future, the goal is to model a human brain.
This project, known as the Blue Brain Project, is quite complex. One cortical column in a rat contains about 10,000 neurons; a human cortical column contains about 100,000 neurons. There are different types of neurons, and the group has success- fully modeled all of the types of neurons and interconnections that would be found in a real cortical column of a rat.
This project is daunting because a single column requires the processing power of one laptop. However, Dr. Markram and his team are working with IBM to achieve the supercomputing technology required for future, more complex models.
If a human brain model is created, scientists will be able to make and test predictions. Such models may provide the groundwork for treatments of neurological conditions by allowing researchers to conduct virtual experiments before moving to clinical trials. The implications of such research could be far-reaching.