Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Functional View of my Brain

As part of the Personal Genome Project, the PGP 10 participate in a variety of projects and diagnostic tests. We've done genome sequencing, published our medical records, and made our stem cells available to the research community worldwide.

Last week, I joined a Functional MRI/Genome study run by Randy Buckner at Harvard. The project is a collaboration among investigators across Harvard and its affiliated hospitals to construct the largest available reference database of brain function for both normal individuals and for individuals with psychiatric illness. Over the past year and a half, they have collected brain imaging data from 1500 volunteers with the help of 20 laboratories spread across Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and McLean Hospital. The goal is to use the database as an openly available reference to understand psychiatric disorders including autism, depression, and schizophrenia with a particular focus on how genetic risk factors for illness alter the brain’s function.

What you are seeing above is what Randy refers to as the “Default Network” of my brain. These are the brain areas that are active when I think to myself. According to Randy, my images are particularly sharp - not because my brain is special but because I moved less than a half millimeter during the study. A dime is about one millimeter thick. Randy's team has speculated that the default network is involved in internal modes of cognition such as when a person is remembering or planning for the future.

Since I'm always planning for the future, you now have a picture of how my brain works. The good news is - I have a brain!

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