The Brain Observatory at UC San Diego has launched an extraordinary endeavor. Dr. Jacopo Annese and his team of researchers are establishing a digital brain bank to explore the relationship between mind and brain.
The study aims at describing the biological basis of human behavior, of individuality, and the changes that occur as with age or as we face neurological disease. The Human Brain Library project leverages on detailed neuropsychological testing, state-of-the-art neuroimaging, and computer science to paint a portrait of each donor that combines clinical and biographical information with thousands of detailed digital anatomical images.
The processes underlying our mental life can only be visualized and measured correctly at the microscopic level, therefore, the study also relies on the opportunity to examine the brain directly and therefore on the will of individuals to make a posthumous tissue donation.
Brain donation is another way of establishing a living will that greatly benefits medical research while advancing our knowledge of the biological foundations of human nature. The endowment of healthy individuals who are aging successfully is just as important as the participation of medical patients. In fact, without a measure of comparison provided by the brain of healthy and unimpaired donors the study of disease would be very problematic, if not impossible.
The reference library contains a large collection of physical glass slides and associated digital data acuired in 2-D and 3-D with different neuroimaging techniues. Each brain specimen is approached as a manuscript that narrates a unique life story. Each specimen is carefully read, its narrative reconstructed and finally its pages are digitized to illustrate and to immortalize the multiple views and neuroscientific insight that each case study provides. In order to achieve this vision, considerable resources are being invested into building innovative equipment and software applications. This forward-looking approach is essential to ensure that even decades from now, future generations of doctors, students, and scientists will be able to consult The Brain Library to validate the latest theories of brain function and disease. By that time, we might be closer to explaining the connection between the brain and our own life experience.
"We’re all born with the same kind of instrument, let’s say a violin. But how we play this violin and what we decide to play shapes this instrument during our lives. We can learn a lot by the wear-and-tear of life on our brain, how each of us has modified it. These could prove to be anatomical fingerprints of individuality, biological clues of what makes us who we are." Dr. Annese, San Diego Union Tribune, Nov. 30, 2009