Decades ago, neuroscientists embarked on the challenging task of treating brain illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. However, progress has been slow due to the brain's complex nature and limited accessibility for study.

Despite the accumulation of vast datasets gathered in brain research, at this point in time, there is still a lack of integration and a unified scientific language.

A senior researcher at the Allen Institute for Brain Science has acknowledged the absence of centralized and synthesized information. Despite significant investments, no solutions for the major brain disorders have been found thus far.

However, this reality is gradually changing thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and technology from Amazon Web Services (AWS). The Allen Institute is at the forefront of an effort to transform this situation through the establishment of the Brain Knowledge Platform.

The Brain Knowledge Platform in Detail    

The platform itself consists of two distinct components. The first, led by a network of neuroscience researchers from 17 institutes worldwide, aims to construct a new map of the entire brain at the cellular level.

The second component, led by the Allen Institute in conjunction with AWS, will focus on using this brain map to create the largest open-source library of brain cell data in the world. This initiative will be the first of its kind to assemble and standardize extensive databases on the structure and function of mammalian brains.

The ultimate goal is to create a resource that would enable better diagnosis and treatment of mental and neurological disorders, which impact more than one-fifth of America’s population and cost the U.S. economy $1.5 trillion annually.

The platform’s workhorse is single-cell genomics. Thanks to new technologies that quantify the genes being used within individual brain cells, researchers can now better uncover the brain’s molecular complexity along with the genes that give cells their different tasks. These highly precise cell atlases will help researchers understand the root causes of various diseases and, eventually, allow clinicians to gain a better understanding of why and how disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s emerge.

Platform Benefits

This knowledge platform will enable researchers to make discoveries previously impossible with the current infrastructure. The true magic lies in the ability to connect researchers with varying pieces of information. As an example, data from a healthy brain can now be connected and compared to information from a diseased brain.

The long-term vision is to integrate information across all mammalian biology into the comprehensive knowledge graph, enabling connections across brain research in different species.

How It Works

To convert massive, complicated multimodal data into useful information for doctors, the institute is leveraging AWS's artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) services. In the future, generative AI implementation is also planned.

The Allen Institute is managing all data by utilizing high-performance computing on AWS and Amazon SageMaker, which are scalable across various workloads.

Cloud computing enables the storage, analysis and accessibility of data from the 200 billion cells that make up the human brain, transforming it into an open-source tool that physicians will ultimately use to find treatments and cures for brain illnesses.

“AWS machine learning empowers research organizations to uncover new connections and discoveries with purpose-built AI services," noted Allyson Fryhoff, managing director of AWS nonprofit and nonprofit health. "Allen is using advanced cloud technologies like ML to further accelerate their findings in a cost-effective and scalable way. We're inspired by their work to unlock never-before-seen insights about the human brain, and we look forward to the many brain research breakthroughs to come."

Just as rudimentary maps depicting the earth's surface centuries ago eventually gave way to sophisticated technology, including satellite photos and navigational aids, so to the goal for the human brain is to also create better and more detailed maps. With the aforementioned technologies and the tireless work of NIH and AWS, that goal may soon be on the horizon.

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