Mapping Autism in the Developing Brain

“Researchers in London plan to examine the brains of living fetuses in order to understand how the brain organizes itself during critical stages of its development. The hope is that a dynamic map of the connections forming in the unborn’s brain will help researchers better understand the origins of disorders such as autism.

“We are very interested in studying how the brain develops normally and, by that means, to [get a reference point from which to better detect and study] abnormal development,” says Jo Hajnal, an imaging specialist at King’s College London and one of the leaders of the Developing Human Connectome Project.

The project is one of several efforts to create a three-dimensional map of the neuronal connections in the human brain. The U.S. BRAIN Initiative seeks to reconstruct the activity of every neuron in a brain (see “Why Obama’s Brain-Mapping Project Matters”) and the E.U. Human Brain Project seeks to create a detailed computational simulation of the human brain. The Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle also develops three-dimensional maps that combine gene activity data with structural detail of human and other animal brains and has recently described its own project to study the developing human brain by examining the cellular structure and organization of gene activity in post-mortem fetal brains.”

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