Virtual brain lab brings together leading neuroscientists

Twenty one leading neuroscience groups from the UK, USA, France, Switzerland and Portugal have formed a ‘virtual brain lab’ to test how the brain controls learning and decision making. 

Through the £10 million International Brain Lab, the groups will work together to collectively understand a single behaviour in mice. The novel approach will allow greater insight into learning and decision making than any single lab could achieve alone. It’s one of the first steps to identifying the brain network dysfunctions that underlie mental health disorders. 

The project is funded by the Simons Foundation and Wellcome.

Experiments and free software tools

The International Brain Lab will measure brain activity in mice to understand the sequence of steps the brain takes to make decisions, such as the best way to obtain food.

Half of the researchers will carry out experiments, with each lab measuring activity in different brain regions. The other half will develop new tools for analysing this data, and produce large scale neural models of decision making. They will develop freely available software tools to help researchers collect and process their data in a standardised way, and share it with the wider world.

Standardised experimental procedures across the groups will allow the data produced to be combined into a unified and powerful dataset. By working collectively, the groups aim to understand how activity across different brain regions comes together to direct cognition and behaviour.

A new model for neuroscience

The International Brain Lab represents a new model for neuroscience research. Investigators around the world will be working together, making use of an open platform for experiments, data organisation and data processing which will allow joined-up working between labs in different locations.

Dr Andrew Welchman, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at Wellcome, said: “Even the seemingly simple decisions we take for granted in everyday life involve the coordinated activity of many thousands of brain cells. A longstanding barrier in understanding the brain has been capturing and teasing apart this activity. 

“The International Brain Lab will deploy state-of-the-art technologies in a collaborative setting, with input from some of the leading experimental and theoretical neuroscientists on the planet. This could be transformative in helping us understand how the brain works.”

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