APBN New Site

APBN Developing Site

Comprehensive Mapping of the Human Brain Using Synchrotron X-Rays

Collaborative international effort of research centres in the Asia Pacific region aims to provide a detailed map of the human brain by 2024.

Launched on 15th January 2020, founding members of the Synchrotron for Neuroscience – Asia Pacific Strategic Enterprise (SYNAPSE), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to commit their resources to work together in mapping the human brain by 2024. The members include teams from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Other research teams from Australia and China have also shown interest to be part of the project.

Initiated at the National University of Singapore (NUS), the project will leverage on high power computing technology and synchrotrons to trace the complex and intricate networks of the human brain.

Associate Professor Low Chian Ming from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Department of Anaesthesia is the co-founding member of this international consortium and lead the team from Singapore. The team will work to construct the map of the human brain and coordinate the data management for this endeavour.

The SYNAPSE team aims to map a total of 200 mouse brains and one human brain, for which the source of the human brain has yet to be decided. Amongst the six participating facilities one portion of the brain will be allocated to each team for mapping. Using synchrotron x-rays, the SYNAPSE partners will image the brain network on a scale of 0.3 micro-metres, with an image being taken at the speed of one cubic millimetre per minute.

A/Prof Low shares that this data acquisition and processing speed is more than 10 times faster than another method currently used. Which led to the estimation of four years to map out a human brain.

On top of the structural map of the brain from synchrotrons, SYNAPSE will complement it with other subcellular and molecular information from other advanced imaging techniques such as spectro-microscopy, super-resolution visible-light three-dimensional microscopy and cryo-electron tomography.

A second MoU was also signed to tackle the data management portion of the project, SYNAPSE members will be implementing a High-Performance Computing network to rapidly process, store, mobilise, access, and analyse data.

For the Singapore team, they will be leveraging the petascale supercomputing resources at the National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC), acting as the data hub for SYNAPSE. This hub will link all SYNAPSE partners via the established high-speed 100G international network connections of the Singapore Advanced Research and Education Network (SingAREN).

The Singapore team will be conducting its imaging work at the Singapore Synchrotron Light Source (SSLS) facility located in NUS.

“Globally, brain mapping has gained impetus due to the growing impact of brain diseases. What we are setting out to do is a world-first enterprise. The images captured with unprecedented speed, clarity and granularity by SYNAPSE will form an extensive human brain map. They will show how neurons are connected and how they interact to result in cognition and intelligence. Our findings could potentially contribute to effective treatment for increasingly important neurodegenerative pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia,” Assoc Prof Low explained.

SYNAPSE will enhance the understanding of the structure of the brain and the composition of its various structures, clarifying the normal functions and helping to identify the causes of brain diseases.

An International Advisory Board (IAB) including experts from neuropathology, electrophysiology, cell biological approaches and imaging has also been established to support SYNAPSE and assure its scientific excellence. [APBN]