Allen Institute Completes Landmark Brain Imaging Work
> 9/27/2006 9:23:33 AM

In September 2003, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen announced that he was putting $100 million of his own money into a project that would create a genome-wide map of gene expression in the mouse brain. Almost exactly three years to the day, the Allen Institute for Brain Science has announced that they have completed work on the survey of 20,000 genes. They have made their work publicly available and it has already served as a boon to other researchers.

Neuroscientists at the Allen lab made many new discoveries regarding the interplay and expression of genes. There is hope that this work will shed light on how genetics relate to diseases and conditions of the mind from depression and addiction to schizophrenia and autism.

Paul Allen himself spoke about the project for the news release.

“This project is an unprecedented union of neuroscience and genomics. The comprehensive information provided by the Atlas will help lead scientists to new insights and propel the field of neuroscience forward dramatically.”

The idea of creating this type of searchable atlas isn't new in and of itself, but without Allen's seed money it may have been years or decades before disparate researchers pooled their information in this way. This tool will allow other neuroscientists and researchers to save time and money, and instead focus their study on solving problems. The press release explains how this new atlas will go beyond its predecessors:

Many of the discrete regions of the brain perform similar functions in all mammals, and greater than 90 percent of all mouse genes have a direct counterpart in humans. By establishing this baseline of the normal mouse brain, the Atlas allows researchers to compare the brain with others altered to mimic neurological and psychiatric diseases found in humans.

Previous atlases have contained anatomic maps showing the location of various regions of the brain, but little or no information about the gene activity within them. Others have contained gene information but none have been nearly as comprehensive as the Atlas, which includes data for every major structure in the brain for nearly all the genes in the genome.

This work is truly a public service as Allen and the team have made their findings available free of charge to anyone who wishes to download them: be they a Stanford researcher or a bricklayer with a strong interest in neuroscience. This tool should help open doors and give us the ability to solve problems, both very new and as old as time.

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