Microsoft Co-founder's Project A No-Brainer

Posted by bink on September 17 2003, 6:19 PM. Posted in Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is betting his money - $100 million to start - on a map of the brain.Allen announced yesterday that he's establishing a research center that will attempt to unravel the mysteries of the brain by identifying the 30,000 genes involved in its development - thereby creating a brain atlas. The nonprofit Allen Institute for Brain Science will be in Seattle.In a news conference, Allen said the idea came from a conversation with James Watson, president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Watson, who has been named a special adviser to the initiative, was out of town yesterday and unavailable to comment.In July 2001, Allen flew a dozen experts in genomics, neuroscience and psychology to Seattle to discuss how to use the expanding knowledge of the human genome to better understand the brain. Mapping the brain is expected to take about five years. Information will be made available to scientists throughout the world as it is amassed, beginning next year. "This project is magnificent and timely," said David Anderson, a brain scientist at California Institute of Technology who joined the scientific advisory board of the new institute. Anderson's work centers on mapping the brain circuitry involved with fear.The first brain maps were put forth by Dr. Wilder Penfield, a brain surgeon who in the 1940s applied electrical currents to the surface of patients' brains to help pinpoint epileptic seizures. His work expanded as patients reported the movements or sensations they experienced in response to the stimulation. Though modern tools have led to a better understanding of individual brain regions, the field is still in its infancy. Allen hopes that knowledge of the brain's molecular makeup will lead to progress in reversing or preventing abnormalities. Such an atlas also is expected to help lead to a deeper understanding of emotion, perception and cognition, scientists say. Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funds about a billion dollars a year in brain research, called the project "an ambitious effort that will have profound public health significance."The Human Genome Project provided us with the equivalent of the white pages of a telephone book. Now, this brain atlas will tell us who lives where in the brain."