The idea was developed by the late Bruce McCormick and his team with the aim of furthering neurological tools, analyzing DNA sequences and helping explore genetic diseases such as Alzheimers and depression.
The machine works by cutting a section of tissue from the brain into half a micrometre-thick cuts using a specialist diamond knife. A laser along the edge of the knife lights up the tissue while it is being sliced capturing images at the same time with a microscope. It takes just under 100 hours to scan a 1 cubic cc block of tissue, which is about the size of a mouse brain. At 300 nm resolution individual neurons in the brain slices are visible. Furthermore, the whole process is automated which means it should help save scientists valuable time.
Our research on mouse brain networks has the potential to transform the way we think about computation
The images are then sewn back together creating a unique 3D map of a brain which is powered by the Google Maps API. The laboratory have uploaded an online atlas of multiple brains that can be viewed by anyone, much like viewing any city in the world on Google maps.
Mice brains are currently used as they are the most amenable to genetic modification having been used for years in the research and study of genetic diseases. But the technology certainly opens doors for the possibility of 3D-mapping a human brain in the future for research purposes, as well as any other mammals.
“Our research on mouse brain networks has the potential to transform the way we think about computation,” a spokesperson for Brain Networks stated. “Network function is built on architecture, both connectivity and neuron morphology, and it is the architecture of the mouse brain as a template for all mammalian brains that constitutes the subject of our investigation.
“The mammalian cerebral cortex, a modular cognitive machine wonderfully adapted for natural computation, is both parallel and distributed in structure. In the long term, findings from our research will lead to a theory of parallel and distributed information processing that bridges both computer and brain networks. Such brain network models could help greatly in building the next generation of IT infrastructure: one less brittle, better adapted to providing relevant and timely information, and better able to model and interact with its environment.”
Knife-Edge Scanning is paving the way for improvements in scientific research, saving time and money but ultimately allowing for a greater understanding of genetic diseases and other neurological studies. Go and step inside the brain of a mouse, it’s just one click away.