New database could shed light on how people’s brains tick
Allen Institute for Brain Science
The human brain is teeming with diversity. By plucking out delicate, live tissue during neurosurgery and then studying the resident cells, researchers have revealed a partial cast of neural characters that give rise to our thoughts, dreams and memories.
So far, researchers with the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle have described the intricate shapes and electrical properties of about 100 nerve cells, or neurons, taken from the brains of 36 patients as they underwent surgery for conditions such as brain tumors or epilepsy. To reach the right spot, surgeons had to remove a small hunk of brain tissue, which is usually discarded as medical waste. In this case, the brain tissue was promptly packed up and sent — alive — to the researchers.
Once there, the human tissue was kept on life support for several days as researchers analyzed the cells’ shape and function. Some neurons underwent detailed microscopy, which revealed intricate