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January 29, 2013

RIKEN, OIST Dive into Human Brain Project


Two Japanese research organizations, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and RIKEN, will join forces with a large European consortium on the Human Brain Project (HBP), which the European Commission has officially announced as one of two Future and Emerging Technology (FET) Flagship projects. 

The goal of the Human Brain Project is to combine all existing knowledge about the human brain and to reconstruct the brain, piece by piece, in supercomputer-based models and simulations. The models will offer the prospect of a new understanding of the human brain and its diseases and of completely new computing and robotics technologies. On January 28, the European Commission supported this vision, announcing that it has selected the HBP as one of two projects to be funded through the new FET Flagship Program. With more than 80 European and international research institutions, the Human Brain Project will last for ten years (2013-2023). At a cost estimated at 1.19 billion euros the HBP will become one of the most ambitious efforts in the history of science that will focus international efforts on research objectives expected to stimulate the global economy.

With three teams involved in the project, the RIKEN Brain Science Institute will contribute to the identification of the brain structures underlying mental capabilities. By listening to the brain's activity during behavior, RIKEN investigators hope to reveal new principles of the mind and cognition. This information will guide the construction of the HBP brain model and stimulate the development of a new generation of brain-based computer and information technologies. Participating RIKEN faculty include Keiji Tanaka, Naotaka Fujii and Justin Gardner.

Dr. Naotaka Fujii's team will contribute to the Language group by studying the neural network mechanisms of primate learning of proto-language via nested sequential stimuli. Drs Keiji Tanaka and Justin Gardner will participate in the group studying the mechanisms of information integration in the brain. The process by which semantic knowledge of the world is developed based on visual object representations and how prior knowledge of the world influences visual perception.

Charles Yokoyama, Coordinator of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute-Human Brain Project collaboration, said: "The participation of RIKEN in the Human Brain Project marks a new era in international collaboration to study the brain; such a large-scale, coordinated effort is needed to produce consistent benefits for society."

OIST's contribution is led by Prof. Erik De Schutter, whose team participates in the development of the Brain Simulation Platform, a major software infrastructure effort. Specifically, the team at OIST will contribute its experience in programming software for the spatial simulation of the interaction between electrophysiological events and biochemical reactions in neurons.

"We are delighted that OIST will participate in this major international initiative," said De Schutter. "Our major challenge is how to integrate fine scale of modeling at the molecular level with large-scale modeling of whole brain regions."

The project will begin work in the closing months of 2013 and will be coordinated at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, by neuroscientist Henry Markram with co-directors Karlheinz Meier of Heidelberg University, Germany, and Richard Frackowiak of Clinique Hospitalière Universitaire Vaudoise (CHUV) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL).

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