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Mapping the brain and its functions
Pechura C., Martin J., National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1991. Type: Book (9780309044974)
Date Reviewed: Sep 1 1992

The huge federal project to combine computer methods and neuroscience research surveyed here is interesting not only for researchers in all branches of neuroscience but also for researchers in diverse biomedical fields; specialists in computer graphics, database technology, and electronic networking; and the federal bureaucracy responsible for neuroscience research. Because this project requires an interdisciplinary effort, experts from the fields of neuroscience and computer and information sciences created a Committee on a National Neural Circuitry Database (which was formed at the request of the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Science Foundation) to coordinate its development.

The book first justifies a brain mapping project as a national priority, using concrete examples in clinical fields. Second, the authors describe the brain’s complexity and present the methods and concepts of neuroscience that validate computer and information technology integration. Finally, they predict the future development of the Brain Mapping Initiative.

From the beginning, some fundamental recommendations of the Committee in the Brain Mapping Initiative are emphasized. The justification of this project is developed in the next three chapters. The book gives concrete examples from clinical neuroscience (in such areas as vision, substance abuse, pain, and schizophrenia) of the value of integrating knowledge to solve practical problems and explains how “neuroscience has grown in response to new technologies and an expanded understanding of biology.” To protect the current investments in neuroscience research, the Brain Mapping Initiative is a catalyst in order to maximize the integration of information gained from research.

A short tutorial on the concepts and investigation methods of neuroscience tries to show the palette of possible relations between anatomical brain study and physiological and neurochemical studies, and recent and promising applications of techniques from molecular biology and genetics. Desired neuroscience research is presented to underline the necessity of integrating databases, three-dimensional graphics, and computer network techniques to transcend conventional boundaries.

The last two chapters discuss the Committee’s recommendations for the Brain Mapping Initiative. This project will be “established with the long term objective of developing three-dimensional computerized maps and models of the structure, pharmacology and molecular biology of human, rat and monkey brains across developmental stages and reflecting both normal and disease states” in two phases. The first phase (over as many as five years) has the goal of gaining experience with the incorporation of the required technologies. A second phase will apply this experience to long-range planning. The most important goals of the project are the creation of computerized archives of neuroscience information; the creation of a wide spectrum of databases, from reference databases to research collaboration and specialty databases; integrating knowledge; establishing standard data exchange for data and algorithm representations; and using an atlas of the human brain as a standard reference frame for expressing neuroanatomical coordinates and regional boundaries. Also, in the long term, the Brain Mapping Initiative must “maintain a close relationship with the gene mapping and sequencing community and the Human Genome Project, and with other scientific computing efforts.”

The book may be longer than necessary at this incipient phase of this project, but it is not artificially prolonged: a chapter giving “a fictional scenario of how a laboratory of the future might use electronic and digital resources” gives the reader a taste of the possible future of the project. The whole book feels like an organized system, from the administrative part (containing the references, index, and so on) to the factual report. It is something like a neuroscience research laboratory, with every word in its place and nothing superfluous. In short, this is an encyclopedic report on the Brain Mapping Initiative.

Reviewer:  A. Lucaciu Review #: CR115813
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