Indian engineers to help Swiss scientists study brain circuits

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Jan 30 2010, 05:51am hrs
Scouting for IT architecture brains, Swiss scientists on Blue Brain project have zeroed in on PIT Solution, a little-heard of IT start-up in Technopark in Southern tip of India.

The Blue Brain Project is the worlds first comprehensive attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain. The $3-billion project is expected to be completed by 2018, Brain Mind Institute of Swiss Federal Institute director Henry Markram told FE. The current year and the next will be the preparatory time for the little Indian firm to team up on the project, he says.

The Blue Brain project is billed as an audacious attempt to build a computerised copy of a brain starting with a rats brain, and then progressing to a human braininside one of the worlds most powerful computers. Propelled by Swiss Federal Institute, it is an international project involving several countries and ethics monitoring by UN bodies. India is yet to be part of the project.

The immediate purpose is to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed simulations. The study of rhodent brain has given us a template to build on. This would help in unravelling human brain, says Markram. The whole idea is that mental illness, memory and perception triggered by neurons and electric signals could be soon treated with a supercomputer that models all the 1,000,000 million synapses of brain.

The key finding is that irrespective of gender and race, human brains are basically identical. We will be able to map the differentiations by nuancing the patterns later. The exciting part is not how different we are but how same we all are, says Markram. Why call it the blue brain The simulation study of an organic part in a completely inorganic model called for an inorganic colour association like blueAsked of the play of free will, he says, biologically, there is very little evidence so far. It has been powerful memories with cause-and-effect implications that has been running the show. Even the seat of emotions can be mapped. For instance, in those with low intensity of emotions, it looks some specific circuits are absent, he says.

Swiss Federal Institute had its first brush with PIT Solution when it notched an open access publishing project, outstripping bids from transnational IT firms from China and even Indian IT behemoth IBM. The IT architecture quality looked superb, even on global terms, said Markram. After its first Swiss project, the firm had to ramp up its IT professional strength from 30 to 40 seats to 160 at one go. Getting teamed up on the Swiss mega-projects reflects first in quality staff-hiring, says Rafeek K Mohammed, CEO, PIT Solution.