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Office of Neuroscience Research > WUSTL Neuroscience News > Scientists become research subjects in after-hours brain-scanning project

Scientists become research subjects in after-hours brain-scanning project



From the WashU Newsroom...

A quest to analyze the unique features of individual human brains evolved into the so-called Midnight Scan Club, a group of scientists who had big ideas but almost no funding and little time to research the trillions of neural connections that activate the body’s most powerful organ.

The research group started in 2013 by two neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who aimed to collect a massive amount of data on individual brains. The study’s subjects were the scientists themselves and eight others, all junior faculty or graduate students.

Most efforts to analyze connections involve scanning many brains and averaging the data across groups of people. For this study, the researchers used brain-imaging techniques to evaluate brain networks that control speech and motor function, among other activities. The researchers examined individuals while resting and performing cognitive tasks such as reading.

Their aim was to better understand the inner-workings of individual people’s brains by compiling hours and hours of data collected on 10 adults — a group of study subjects that included two of the researchers themselves. Their work led to 10 high-fidelity, individual-specific connectomes — detailed maps of neural brain connections that reveal spatial and organizational variability in brain networks, and that may one day be helpful in determining personalized treatments for brain-related disorders.

The research is published online July 27 in the journal Neuron and will be featured on the cover of the Aug. 16 print edition of journal. The dataset is available as a resource for neuroscientists so they can plumb the information for further discoveries about brain circuitry.

“Using this approach, we might one day be able to obtain brain-function maps of patients and individualize neuropsychiatric and medical treatments based on specific features of their brain networks,” said Nico Dosenbach, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of pediatric and developmental neurology at the School of Medicine. “We’d like to be able to provide personalized medicine using neuroimaging to treat people with seizures, migraines and depression.

“This is also exciting for basic neuroscience because these individual maps look quite a bit different from the currently available standard group maps,” Dosenbach said. “We learned that spatial averaging destroys all the fine features of our brain organization, kind of like what happens when you average photos of several peoples’ faces. Everything gets blurred and blotchy.”

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