South Korean Research Institutes Focus on Creating a Connectome through Advanced Technologies

Sep 09, 2019

As recent violent crimes by schizophrenia patients created a buzz around the world, people now identify schizophrenia patients as dangerous people. On the other hand, guardians and parents of schizophrenia patients feel victimized. As they try to hide such illness from their loved ones due to prejudice, schizophrenia patients do not receive proper treatment and sometimes carry out unexpected acts as a result.
Schizophrenia is a type of brain disease. Depression and sociopath that can sometimes lead to autism, dementia, and suicide are all brain disease. Brain disease occurs when there is faulty wiring within a brain even though brain cells are normal. Problem is that current medical technology cannot figure out where there is faulty wiring. Current research on brain mapping is part of an effort to solve such problem.
Brain mapping (connectome) is type of an image that visualizes neurons and neutral network that connects neurons and it is sort of like Google Earth. By zooming into connectome, one can even see neurons of a brain. However, it is never simple to draw the structure of a brain, which is very complicated, as a simple map.
Research on connectome, which had slowed down recently for few years, has been reignited due to development of advanced technologies. Advanced technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Big Data break down limitations and accelerate the speed of research on connectome.
“As advanced technologies have developed rapidly, research on brain has faced a new turning point.” said one neural researcher. “It has become possible to solve problems that were faced with technical limitations.”
◊Google attempts to create a connectome
Exactly one year ago, Google announced that it was going to work on creating a human connectome using AI technology. Its plan was to apply its AI arithmetic technology and mapping technology to Connectomics, which is a study on how a human brain is connected through neural network and how it operates.
It will be interesting to see whether Google can create something like Google Earth. However, Google needs to interpret enormous amount of data in order to create a connectome. Enormous amount of computing power is needed to create brain tissues that are 1 nanometer in size as 3D images.
100 terabytes data are needed to map a mouse’s brain, 100 exabytes data is needed to map a human brain. Although 100 exabytes are enormous amount of data, it is even more difficult to analyze and to map 100 exabytes data.
Ultimately, it is up to Google’s AI technology to analyze these data. Google’s challenge created an opportunity for other global IT companies to focus on research related to human brain.

South Korean Research Institutes Focus on Creating a Connectome through Advanced Technologies

◊National Research Center for Dementia creates a product based on connectome and brain imaging analysis algorithm
Chosun University’s National Research Center for Dementia (NRCD) is the one that has made the most progress in research on creating a connectome in South Korea. NRCD prepared a standard connectome for people with dementia and developed an algorithm for analyzing brain imaging.
NRCD received an approval from FDA for ‘Neuro Eye’, which is a dementia predicting medical device based on its algorithm, earlier this year. It explained that Neuro Eye is the world’s first FDA-approved medical device applied with connectome and an algorithm for analyzing brain imaging.
Its algorithm and standard connectome were also selected as ‘This Year’s Top 10 Scientific Technology News’ by The Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies.
Based on its knowhow from dementia-related research, it established a joint research group with Korea Brain Research Institute (KBRI) back in April. KBRI’s joint Gwangju research project is going to invest $8.22 million (9.8 billion KRW) for the next five years to investigate causes of dementia and to develop technologies for treatment and early prediction.
Because NRCD developed products that can actually be used for people with dementia based on its technology related to connectome, it has brought interests towards connectome once again.
◊Advanced technologies light the fuse to research on connectome
Many neutral circuit-related research results based on advanced technologies such as high-resolution 3D microscope and Big Data are coming out continuously. Earlier this year, MIT developed a technology that can accurately draw a connectome in 3D.
MIT’s technology can find individual neuron in a brain and trace connections between neurons and visualize cells of a brain tissue. MIT was able to obtain high-resolution images through 3D microscope technology by using a method of expanding brain tissues.
MIT used a new microscope that combines expansion microscopy and lattice light-sheet microscopy. It would had taken many years for MIT to develop its technology using a normal electronic microscope. MIT’s research team succeeded in making an image of a fruit fly’s brain that has about 100,000 neurons.
Research on brain disease using games comes from new approach and technology. Such research is based on a method that utilizes a human that has better visual information ability than a computer. Professor Sebastian Seung of Princeton University developed ‘EyeWire’ that is a game that finds neural network of a mouse’s retina.
Professor Seung along with Director Kim Jin-seop of KBRI’s Neural Circuit Research Group stated through an international scientific journal called ‘Cell’ that they found 47 visual paths that connect a mouse’s eye and its brain from a mouse’s retina based on data from EyeWire. Their research result within brain researchers is seen as a one step closer towards creating a visual connectome.
Currently world’s best cerebral blood flow map developed by Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science’s National Center for Standard Reference Data last year is a result of Big Data. Because the map is created based on neural image data of 1,160 patients with cerebral infarction from 11 major hospitals in South Korea, it can provide meaningful statistics on which part of a brain cerebral infarction occurs most frequently.
Researchers believe that state-of-the-art research equipment that can develop various research methods is the most important for creating a connectome. This is the reason why advanced countries such as the U.S. and Germany are at the forefront in brain-related research.
“Creating connectome is essential to understand causes of brain disease such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder and to develop functional ways to bypass damaged neural circuits based on understanding of causes.” said Director Ra Jong-cheol of KBRI’s Neural Network Project Group. “Because this is a field where introduction and development of state-of-the-art equipment determines the speed of research process, we need decisive investments from South Korean Government and development of necessary equipment through multi-disciplinary research.”
Staff Reporter Jung, Jaehoon | jhoon@etnews.com

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