"This is a major step and the result of a lot of hard and excellent work by our members and partners all over Europe", says the HBPs Scientific Director, Katrin Amunts, a medical doctor and neuroscientist based at Forschungszentrum Jülich and Full Professor for Brain Research at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany.
The HBP is a European Flagship Project that connects the work of over 500 researchers in 19 European member states. Its multidisciplinary teams investigate the complex organization and dynamics of the brain with novel computationally enabled approaches. In the process the project builds a Research Infrastructure for neuroscience, central to which are a sophisticated Neuroinformatics Platform with digital tools for large scale data analytics, a Simulation Platform, a network of supercomputing centers all over Europe, as well as novel neuromorphic computing and neurorobotics systems. The in total six platforms were significantly advanced in the second project phase, which successfully came to a close at the end of March this year.
The HBP was started in 2013, as one of two Flagship Projects of the European Commission's Future & Emerging Technologies (FET) program. After the Ramp-up phase (October 2013-March 2016) it was restructured and constructing a computationally enabled infrastructure for brain science was defined as a new focus. Changes in governance and research, and new approaches like the Co-Design principle, in which Scientists and Engineers work closely together, were successfully implemented. "Bringing together neuroscientists and computing experts in this systematic, long term way has proven highly productive", Amunts says. "It yielded excellent scientific results to better understand the multilevel organization of the brain while at the same time advancing an infrastructure that will be a lasting contribution to the worldwide scientific and medical community".
With this, the project addresses one of the major problems in brain research today: The scale of brain´s complexity has sometimes resulted in very narrow specializations and a certain fragmentation of the neuroscience field. Large amounts of data are being produced but the integration into a coherent picture of the brain is lacking. The HBP infrastructure is intended to serve as a means to overcome this issue. It allows combining and integrating vast and disparate data to develop coherent multilevel models, test them in simulation, and feed results back to empirical research on a collaborative platform. As a project at the interface between neuroscience, medicine and computing the HBP provides the technological infrastructure to tackle the brains complexity and link data across different scales of brain organization, fight against brain diseases and make technological progress in areas like Artificial Intelligence and High-Performance Computing.
To provide guidance on the road ahead, both a Clinical and a Scientific Advisory Board with international experts were established in 2017. "We are very excited to work with HBP and help ensure that the project stays focused and integrated across scientific fields and national borders ." says Gitte Knudsen, Professor of Neurobiology at Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Chair of the HBP Scientific Advisory Board.
The focus in the third project phase will be to unite the six platforms together in a single one, the HBP Joint Platform, and to establish a HBP High-Level Support Team for users. With this the project will focus more and more on getting the wider community outside of HBP involved and let their research needs drive what the engineers build.
"With the substantial advances that were made we can go into the next phase with a solid foundation and a very exciting outlook", Katrin Amunts says. "Our project is growing, and there are many ways to join us via open calls, as a partnering project or in some cases already as an external user. We invite the scientific and clinical community to enter into dialogue with us, plan projects, test platforms and provide feedback."