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3D Map of Brain Opens Up New Wave of Research into Brains Functions

Update Date: Jun 20, 2013 08:47 PM EDT

For the first time ever, the human brain has been rendered in 3-D, giving researchers an invaluable new way to examine how the brain works.

The new map, called BigBrain, is 50 times as detailed as previous efforts and will be available to researchers everywhere, researchers said author of a new report on the project in the current issue of Science. In three dimensions and intricate detail, BigBrain reveals the anatomy of the brain as never seen before. The BigBrain model belongs to a 65-year-old woman who had no neurological problems. 

"The BigBrain is the first ever brain model in 3D, which really presents a realistic human brain with all the cells and all the structures of a human brain," study researcher Karl Zilles of the Juelich-Aachen Research Alliance and the Research Center Julich in Germany said in a press briefing Wednesday (June 19).

"These are images of a 3-D reconstructed human brain with a spatial resolution of 0.02 millimeters. So this is even thinner than a thin human hair, and it allows [us] to see the microstructure of the human brain in 3-D space," said Katrin Amunts, director of the Vogt Institute for Brain Research at Germany's Heinrich Heine University, a partner in the project, Voice of America notes.

Scientists would like to understand the relationship within the structure of the brain, its function and behavior.

"It is necessary to have all the reference brains, which have this very high microscopic resolution and therefore we created such [a] reference brain," said Amunts. 

"This involved us in both manual activity in shifting broken pieces of the data into the right spatial location and then a large amount of computational analysis," said Alan Evans at McGill University, who was in charge of digital reconstruction, "which allowed us to overcome the distortions, both the geometric and optical, to reassemble the data into a coherent three-dimensional form."  

Amunts says the model would allow researchers to measure the thickness of the cerebral cortex, which changes as one ages and has been associated with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's. 

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