CERN for the brain

Sunday 24th February 2013

The selection of the Human Brain Project as a FET Flagship will see the partners negotiate a detailed agreement with the EU Community for the initial first two and a half year ramp-up phase (2013-mid 2016) and project work begin in the closing months of 2013. Universities of Edinburgh and Stirling will be Scottish players in the EU project along with Imperial, Kings and University Colleges, London, and the UK along with Exeter, Cardiff, Cambridge, Leicester, Manchester and Oxford. Another UK participator will be CRAY UK.


Understanding the human brain is one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century science, wrotethe experts who argued for the Flagship project. " If we can rise to the  challenge, we can gain fundamental insights into what it  means to be human, develop new treatments for brain diseases and build revolutionary new Information and Communications Technologies." Below Courtesy

Experts argue that the  convergence between ICT and biology has reached a point at  which it can turn this dream into reality a realisation that has motivated its authors to launch the Human Brain Project – Preparatory Study (HBP-PS) – a one-year EU-funded Coordinating Action in which nearly 300  experts  in neuroscience, medicine and computing came together to  develop a new  “ICT-accelerated” vision for brain research and its applications.

The consensus was  that the major obstacle that hinders our understanding of the brain, is the very fragmentation of brain research  and the data it produces. Our most urgent need is a concerted international effort that can integrate this data in a unified picture of the brain as a single multi-level system.

To reach  this goal, we propose to build on and transform emerging ICT technologies. In neuroscience, neuro-informatics and brain simulation we can collect and integrate our experimental data, identifying and filling gaps in our knowledge, prioritising and  enormously increasing the value we can extract from future  experiments.

In medicine, medical informatics can identify biological signatures of brain disease, allowing diagnosis at an early  stage, before the disease has done irreversible damage, and  enabling personalised treatment, adapted to the needs of individual patients. Better diagnosis, combined with disease  and drug simulation, can accelerate the discovery of new  treatments, speeding up and drastically lowering the cost of  drug discovery.

In computing, new techniques of interactive supercomputing, driven by the needs of brain simulation, can impact  a vast range of industries, while devices and systems, modelled after the brain, can overcome fundamental limits on the  energy-efficiency, reliability and programmability of current
technologies, clearing the road for systems with brain-like  intelligence.  These requirements can only be met by a project on the scale of a FET Flagship. We propose that the European Commission launches such a Flagship. We call it The Human Brain Project (HBP). 

The Human Brain Project should lay the technical  foundations for a new model of ICT-based brain  research, driving integration between data  and knowledge from different disciplines, and  catalysing a community effort to achieve a new  understanding of the brain, new treatments for  brain disease and new brain-like computing  technologies.


Now federating more than 80 European and international research institutions, the Human Brain  Project is planned to last ten years (2013-2023) cost €1.19 billion. 

The project will also associate some important North American and Japanese partners. It will be coordinated at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, by (L2R above) neuroscientist Henry Markram with co-directors Karlheinz Meier of Heidelberg University, Germany, and Richard Frackowiak of Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL)

The Human Brain Project will provide new tools to help understand the brain and its fundamental mechanisms and to apply this knowledge in future medicine and computing.  Central to the Human Brain Project is Information and Computing Technology (ICT).

The project will develop ICT platforms for neuro-informatics, brain simulation and supercomputing that will make it possible to federate neuroscience data from all over the world, to integrate the data in unifying models and simulations of the brain, to check the models against data
from biology and to make them available to the world scientific community.

The ultimate goal  is to allow neuroscientists to connect the dots leading from genes, molecules and cells to human cognition and behaviour. A novel medical informatics platform will federate clinical data from around the world,  allowing medical researchers to unlock the clinically valuable information they contain and to incorporate it in computer models of disease. The goal is to develop techniques for the  objective diagnosis of the brain’s diseases, to understand their underlying mechanisms and
to speed up the search for new treatments.

Finally, the HBP will build new platforms for “neuro-morphic computing” and “neuro-robotics”,  allowing researchers to develop new computing systems and robots based on the  architecture and circuitry of the brain. The new systems will use detailed knowledge of the  brain to address critical problems facing future computing technology: energy efficiency, reliability, and the huge difficulties involved in programming very complex computing systems.

The HBP will fund independent scientists to use the new platforms for their own research, reserving a substantial part of its budget for this purpose. In brief, the HBP will create a  CERN for the brain.


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