Like the brain itself, data about brain function is extremely complicated and highly interconnected. This high level of complexity means that scientists who study the brain must find effective ways to manipulate, visualize, and analyze large interconnected sets of information.
The term “neuroinformatics” comes from “neuro-“(i.e., the brain) and “informatics” (i.e., the application of computers, mathematics and statistics to the management of information).
"Neuroinformatics is very much an applied science," says Dr. Stephen Strother, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto.” It allows us to combine, analyze and understand huge amounts of research data from different medical and scientific fields using complex, state-of-the-art computational models.”
The resulting advanced knowledge and technologies are then distributed via the web for the neuroscience and medical communities. The goal is to advance the understanding of the structure and function of the brain, and translate this to more effective clinical treatment of brain disorders such as stroke.
Dr. Strother and his colleagues have been assembling all the resources—expert personnel, hardware and software—necessary to create and maintain a world-class computing and neuroinformatics infrastructure.
“We are developing more effective ways to integrate and analyze neuroimages and related brain and clinical data,” he explains. “This has enabled Baycrest to play a significant role in local, national and international neuroinformatics projects focused on the normal aging brain and on the diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders.
Here are some areas where neuroinformatics expertise is making a difference to researchers and clinicians:
This database was created at Baycrest under the auspices of the multi-institution Centre for Stroke Recovery. It provides clinicians and researchers with comprehensive data sets, processing tools and predictive algorithms to help them learn more about the clinical and biological determinants of recovery from stroke.
This international group brings together nine research institutes from around the world in a multi-million dollar project to study the brain’s remarkable – but still poorly understood – ability to rewire its networks after damage caused by stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias.
The lead architect of the Brain NRG is Dr. Randy McIntosh, a senior scientist and the Director of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. “We are creating a brain simulation – a “virtual brain” – using knowledge gained from studying real brain function (see The Centre for Integrative Brain Dynamics below). The ultimate goal is to use the model’s capacity to predict network recovery after brain damage to test both virtual and real treatment options.”
A global race is underway to pull off a neuroscience feat that is comparable to decoding the human genome: the creation of a virtual human brain. Baycrest is leading the way, along with scientific collaborators from around the world.
The goal is the world’s first integrated computer model of a fully functioning human brain. It will be derived from massive amounts of imaging data taken from hundreds of thousands of healthy people from around the globe.
The “virtual brain” will simulate how the brain functions under various normal conditions, how this changes with the aging process, and how the brain responds to damage from trauma or disease. For example, specific computer models will be developed to mirror conditions including age-related memory loss, stroke, head trauma and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The model can be used to test the safety and effectiveness of experimental and alternative brain therapies on a computer before they are used in animals and in humans.
The Rotman Research Institute is also a founding member of this group which uses high-speed fibre optic cables and high-performance computing centres to link the five leading brain imaging research centres in Canada, The goal is to develop a national platform for distributed processing, analysis, exchange and visualisation of brain imaging data linked to local neuroimaging databases such as the Rotman Research Institute Neuroimaging Database (RRINiD).
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