In a blog post published on 17 July, Commissioner Andrus Ansip, who is in charge of the Digital Single Market, looks into the Human Brain Project (HBP), which is one of the two FET Flagship launched in 2013 by the European Union (EU).
The HBP aims to answer some of science's toughest questions: How does a healthy brain work? How does the brain learn? Researchers are trying to assess whether some of its computational capabilities could be replicated in computers and robots. The objectives are to create research infrastructures for developing highly detailed multi-level models of the brain and to support personalised medicine for neurological and related diseases.
Interestingly, Commissioner Ansip emphasises that simulation is key to achieving these goals and deepening our understanding of the brain. “It allows us to perform ‘virtual’ experiments that would otherwise be impossible, ultimately helping to develop new therapies.” He further argues that supercomputers are key in analysing the complexity of the human brain which contains 86 billion neurons, each with up to 10,000 connections. That is the reason why the HBP relies on supercomputer centres based in Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, and soon in France. In this context, the EU is planning to invest heavily into high-performance computing over the next decade.
For the next two years, the HBP researchers will work to improve the integration of the different research platforms offered and provide scientific and technical support to the neuroscientists and engineers using them. The aim is for this infrastructure to be available for research communities beyond those involved in the HBP, multiplying the potential of scientific breakthroughs.
Commissioner Andriukaitis concludes his blog post by stating that the HBP “opens up possibilities for better identification of diseases, new treatments including new drugs, and could significantly accelerate the process of clinical trials”.
The full blog post is available on the Commission’s website here.