Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) are pleased to announce that ‘The Virtual Brain’ neuroinformatics platform has joined the EU’s Flagship ‘Human Brain Project’. With financial support from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, Charité’s researchers are now integrating their open-source platform into the ‘Human Brain Project’. This will provide participating researchers with a research infrastructure that promotes efficiency and reproducibility. The researchers will focus on refining the theoretical underpinnings of the computer models used, developing efficient simulation technology, and working on neuroinformatics solutions that enhance the reproducibility of studies.
The project under leadership of Prof. Dr. Petra Ritter, Johanna Quandt Professor of Brain Simulation at Charité’s Department of Neurology with Experimental Neurology started on 1 April 2018 and will initially be funded for two years. The project’s aim is to help design the digital infrastructure of the ‘Human Brain Project’ (HBP), and to enable a better understanding of network mechanisms of brain function by integrating huge volumes of research data from various institutions. The ‘Human Brain Project’ has set itself several objectives: the collection and distribution of neuroscience data, the conduction of brain simulations, and the development of what is known as ‘brain-inspired computing’. The latter will involve the development of new types of supercomputers which mimic the architecture of the brain. The ‘Human Brain Project’ comprises a consortium of approximately 750 researchers from more than 100 institutions and over 20 countries.
‘The Virtual Brain’ is an open-source simulation platform that allows operators to combine experimental brain data from a wide range of sources in order to improve their understanding of the brain’s underlying mechanisms. By entering data from an individual patient into the model, operators can produce personalized brain models.
“Considering the complexity of the organisms involved, the data currently available within the biological sciences are extremely limited,” says Prof. Ritter. Regarding the simulation platform’s role within the project, Prof. Ritter explains: “Big data may be important, but so are the theories which underpin them. An excellent digital infrastructure is an essential prerequisite to both efficient data sharing and the development of detailed computer models of diseases.” She adds: “Researchers within the neurosciences are generating large numbers of unique data sets on how the nervous system operates. One of the challenges we are facing is the integration of different data sources, which will allow us to identify the complex interactions that contribute to brain function.” The neuroinformatics-based approach of the ‘Human Brain Project’, which uses computer-based modeling and simulations, seems to offer a unique opportunity to combine these data and thus to gain an understanding of these types of interactions. ‘The Virtual Brain’ will ensure access to a validated, well-documented software, thus avoiding a situation in which individual laboratories develop and work with their own in-house solutions.
Prof. Ritter has a clear goal in sight: “Our big vision is for future treatments to be tested on a patient’s digital doppelganger. We must now find a way to put this plan into practice, and to further develop and integrate our central digital platforms. We have shown that we are capable of building a fully-functioning open-source platform that promotes both efficiency and reproducibility in research. Charité and the BIH will take a leading role in driving this important development.”