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Biomedical Optics & Medical Imaging

Michael Hawrylycz: Creating a 3D brain map to aid research

Online resources from the Allen Institute for Brain Science have supported thousands of experiments around the world and helped transform brain research.

20 January 2014, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201401.03

Michael Hawrylycz, Ph.D. is an Investigator at the Allen institute for Brain Science in Seattle, WA. As member of the Allen Institute since its beginning in 2003 he has led the informatics and data annotation efforts of many of the basic atlases. More recently as Director of the Modeling, Analysis, and Theory Group his group is responsible for modeling and data analysis strategies for the Institute's next generation projects. He has worked in a variety of areas of applied mathematics and computer science.

Imaging in neuroscience has revolutionized our current understanding of brain structure, architecture and increasingly its function. Many characteristics of morphology, cell type, and neuronal circuitry have been elucidated through methods of neuroimaging. Combining this data in a meaningful, standardized, and accessible manner is the scope and goal of the digital brain atlas. Digital brain atlases are used today in neuroscience to characterize the spatial organization of neuronal structures, for planning and guidance during neurosurgery, and as a reference for interpreting other data modalities such as gene expression and connectivity data.

The field of digital atlasing is extensive and in addition to atlases of the human includes high-quality brain atlases of the mouse, rat, rhesus macaque, and other model organisms. Using techniques based on histology, structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging as well as gene expression data, modern digital atlases use probabilistic and multimodal techniques, as well as sophisticated visualization software to form an integrated product. Toward this goal, brain atlases form a common coordinate framework for summarizing, accessing, and organizing this knowledge and will undoubtedly remain a key technology in neuroscience in the future.

The Allen Brain Atlas resources, created by the Allen Institute as open online public resources, integrate large-scale, systematically generated gene expression and anatomic datasets, complete with powerful search and viewing tools. Each month, the Allen Brain Atlas resources receive approximately 50,000 visits from researchers worldwide. Regular updates and data releases put an increasing amount of valuable data and powerful search and viewing tools in the hands of scientists and research organizations everywhere, thereby accelerating understanding of the brain and related disorders and diseases.

Michael Hawrylycz presented a keynote address at SPIE Medical Imaging 2014.