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Approved research

The Virtual Brains of UK Biobank

Principal Investigator: Dr Petra Ritter
Approved Research ID: 49314
Approval date: November 20th 2019

Lay summary

In healthy aging and in brain disease, in particular in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, the organization of neuronal networks in the brain changes. This leads to impairments in memory, speech and movements and therefore affects the activities of daily living and causes disability. These processes are influenced by multiple factors including gene expression and lifestyle. Modern technologies allow to measure a lot of these factors - e.g. by the analysis of blood samples, genetic characterization, high resolution imaging of the brain and detailed neuropsychological testing. However, it is still necessary to bring all this information together. By constructing individual brain avatars - the virtual brain - we integrate all available health information of a single person in a mechanistic computational model of the brain. Therefore we include e.g. three-dimensional images of the brain and maps of how the neurons in the brain are wired together and how regions with similar functions are co-activated. Through computer simulations that represent the whole brain from its smallest neurons up to major brain regions, we achieve insights into key mechanisms that predict good and poor brain health. To give an example: by performing thousands of simulations on a supercomputer, we can figure out how different sorts of neurons work together in the brain of an individual person. We will therefore use a large spectrum of data types ranging from brain imaging to lab values to epidemiological and genetic data to identify mechanistic biomarkers for healthy aging and diseases like Alzheimer's dementia. The personalized brain avatars can be used to test treatment strategies like new drugs or brain stimulation for each individual patient.