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The Male Brain (of Mice and Men)

Posted Sep 12 2008 12:00pm

We recently wrote about how neuroscience is a burgeoning field; some say that it will displace genetics as the leading edge of scientific discoveries in the 21st century. Significant ethical issues come along with discoveries about how our brains work.

Fortunately, thanks to the vision and generosity of Paul Allen, scientific researchers will now have the tools they need to unlock the brain's mysteries. From today's Seattle Times:
The type of brain map that used to grace high-school biology texts looked like a quilt: A pink chunk labeled "vision" bumped up against a blue blob that was the seat of language and a yellow swath representing motor perception.

Those crude representations were the result of centuries' worth of painstaking dissection, coupled with case studies of people suffering from brain damage and disease.

It took only three years for a Seattle lab founded by Microsoft mogul and philanthropist Paul Allen to revolutionize the landscape of neuroscience by creating a map of the brain that goes far beyond topography to pinpoint the workings of individual cells.

Allen, who donated $100 million to the lab, said he is so pleased with the results that he will consider similar, large-scale science projects in the future.

"This was a great opportunity to do something here that made a difference, and that we could do quickly," he said. "We'll certainly look for more opportunities like this."

Experts say the Allen Brain Atlas, which will be formally unveiled today, will boost understanding of brain circuits and chemistry — and what goes wrong in conditions ranging from schizophrenia and autism to Parkinson's disease and drug addiction.

The initial mapping will be done on male mice. While we applaud their efforts, it is important not to assume discoveries based on male models (mice or men) can be directly translated to the female gender.

We found this out with heart disease. Paul: Remember the ladies!
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