Human Brain Project Annual Summit:
The Human Brain Project has opened its 8th annual Summit with presentations of new scientific insights and technologies as well as a powerful new infrastructure for brain research – EBRAINS
The annual Human Brain Project (HBP) scientific conference is being held virtually for the first time on 14 and 15 October 2021.
"The virtual format allows external participants to join much more easily, broadening the reach and sparking new collaboration," said Katrin Amunts, who opened the meeting. 130 external scientists among the total of 572 registered participants took the opportunity, including many students. In her welcome address, Amunts, who was elected HBP Scientific Director in 2016, after leading a subproject on human brain organization, described the beginnings of the project:
“When the HBP started, it was a courageous step; the neuroscience field was highly fragmented, and collaboration between disciplines often difficult.” Progress in computing and digitalization emerged as powerful factors to improve on that, and to address brain complexity. “It was clear that we needed advanced technological tools and data systems not just as a collection, but as a platform where they could be combined, to address multi-scale brain organization.” This became EBRAINS, now both an infrastructure and an association based in Brussels.
Prof. Andre Syrota, Chairman of EBRAINS emphasized that the enduring infrastructure will serve generations of brain scientists. With its recent inclusion in the ESFRI roadmap, EBRAINS is now one of the top science facilities in Europe and on track to become a go-to platform for tackling research problems around the brain. “The pieces of this fascinating puzzle are falling into place,” Syrota said.
Open participation is key to ensuring that EBRAINS stays aligned with the changing needs of science. This is why the HBP invites the community in various ways to give feedback and reaches out to scientific organizations worldwide. The EBRAINS association is open to accepting new institutional members to take part in shaping its future.
Keynotes and additional sessions gave insights into the wide range of science-supported by EBRAINS today. Theoretical neuroscientist Karl Friston described his plans to use EBRAINS to better understand pathologies like schizophrenia. The eminent scientist joined the HBP at the beginning of 2021 as a lead scientist.
Katrin Amunts introduced the 3D digital human brain atlas openly available on EBRAINS, which delivers unmatched data quality with regards to brain structure and variability, and is used to link data from very different types of experiments. “Atlases today go way beyond just visualization of findings. They allow to scale up analyses and link data to other computational tools, e.g., for simulation.” The new high-resolution maps are relevant for a broad range of neuroscience topics, including neuroimaging and in the future also neurosurgery.
Breakout sessions and a virtual science Market presented the EBRAINS services that are available to the scientific community. HBP scientists showcased ambitious research projects already made possible by EBRAINS – from areas like robotics, consciousness research, medicine, and basic neuroscience. The first Summit day also saw the launch of the EBRAINS Community Tool, a means of onboarding new users and fostering interaction to create a vibrant collaborative ecosystem.
A panel discussion brought together leading scientists in European brain research: Wim Vanduffel, Karl Friston, Roshan Cools, Maurizio Corbetta, Gustavo Deco, and Gitte Knudsen. Under the moderation of Katrin Amunts and Mavi Sanchez-Vives the panelists discussed the past, present, and future of brain research. Participants emphasized the need for balance between agile smaller team science and large initiatives creating shared resources and platforms, as well as the importance of multi-disciplinarity in the training of young neuroscientists.
Innovation awards were presented for Prof. Viktor Jirsa for “The Virtual Epileptic Patient” and Prof. Marcello Massimini for PCI, a new method to measure consciousness levels in non-responsive patients. Both scientists are currently moving their HBP-enabled innovations towards broad clinical application and the market.
The general meeting of the largest European brain science project continues on Friday, with a packed program on neurotechnologies like brain-inspired computing and robotics, poster sessions, and several panel discussions on “Brain Research in the European Landscape”, “The Concept of EBRAINS Services”, and the “HBP and EBRAINS Towards 2023 and Beyond”.
The scientific conference was preceded by the European Brain Summit and Brain Innovation Days held in Brussels from 12-13 October. Read the report: Making brain health a priority in Europe: Brussels sees events packed with high-level brain scientists and policy-makers.