In Focus

The Human Brain Project: the game-changer in navigating brain networks

The human brain is a truly amazing and awe-inspiring thing, performing feats that even the most sophisticated computers are only just starting to tackle and doing so using a tiny amount of energy. Consisting of a vast network of around 86 billion nerve cells each with 10,000 synaptic contacts, understanding its multi-level organisation and behaviours is a challenge so extraordinary that no single research project could claim to provide the full picture. And with simulations and analysis demanding enormous computing power, collaboration on a vast scale is needed.

Therefore, the Human Brain Project (HBP) is providing a unique, lasting contribution by building a research infrastructure to harness multiple disciplines and computing, to help advance neuroscience, medicine and computing to the benefit of society.

Together with PRACE (the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe), GÉANT and the NRENs are providing networking and access services that ensure Europe’s supercomputers can be relied upon by HBP scientists worldwide.

Words: Silvia Fiore, GÉANT

The mission

There is no research infrastructure currently available in Europe that is or could be similar to EBRAINS in its goals, scope, multi-disciplinarity and level of technological development to decode the human brain’s complexity, and translate this knowledge into advances in technology, computing and medicine that deliver tangible benefits for society.

By mastering the knowledge and know-how necessary for effective prevention, diagnosis and treatment of brain diseases, the HBP wants to ensure Europe’s medical sovereignty. An increasing number of applications are built on EBRAINS new technologies. For example, a method for personalized modelling of patient brains is currently undergoing clinical trials, the first of its kind. This method is being used in 30 European clinics, enabling analysis of patient data, without the highly sensitive information having to leave the hospital. It is expected that this technology will have an impact for future studies of rare diseases.

Improved understanding of the brain and the ability to harness that knowledge also provide an important underpinning for Europe’s economic competitiveness and digital leadership by mastering some of the key technologies which will determine the terms of future global competition, including AI, robotics, and brain-inspired high performance computing.

HBP also encourages the major challenges for neuroscience to be addressed collaboratively, generating the necessary synergy between research efforts across several different disciplines; providing a unique, distributed digital research infrastructure for all of Europe and beyond for a new era in brain research.

“The Human Brain Project is one of the most prestigious projects in the European Union and with added value beyond Europe. Projects such as the HBP consistently drive us to improving our digital infrastructures and optimising our support to science and innovation. It is a great honour to serve this initiative for the infrastructure and data management community, as it is a concrete realisation of the EOSC project mission, to turn the research data from information to knowledge, to do better science.

Open Science, data management, and FAIR in action, via good implementation will open a new era for research and research result dissemination. One of GÉANT’s organisational values is community. We collaborate with our partners around the world proving every day that science has no borders. I am very glad to be able to bring this mission and experience to the HBP community.” Cathrin Stover, GÉANT’s Chief Communications Officer, and Co-chair of the EOSC Executive Board, has joined the Science and Infrastructure Advisory Board (SIAB) of the HBP

GÉANT’s role

The data handling requirements of a project such as the HBP are immense, and typical of such a large-scale collaboration. This is why GÉANT works with PRACE to ensure that the European supercomputing centres are interconnected across the National Research & Education Networks. In December 2016, GÉANT and PRACE launched a pathfinder project to upgrade the network infrastructure to extremely high performance virtual private networks between all the sites for a simple, secure and manageable network capacity.

The subprojects

EBRAINS

With the current and third Specific Grant Agreement (SGA3) of the project receiving new funding until 2023, the HBP is focusing on expanding its innovative EBRAINS digital infrastructure, a unique infrastructure worldwide, in which it provides access to the most comprehensive set of brain data yet made available, along with an unprecedented array of digital resources for sharing, analysing and storing such data. It uses these resources to model and simulate the brain and test the results in virtual neurorobotics experiments with advanced high-performance computing capabilities.

FENIX

From a technological view, EBRAINS is built on the FENIX infrastructure (Federated Network for Information Exchange) which opens up the major European supercomputing centres – BSC in Spain, CEA in France, JSC in Germany, CSCS in Switzerland, and CINECA in Italy – to neuroscientists and other researchers in a cloud-like manner.

With its long-term experience in operating federated services for the R&E community, GÉANT is working closely with FENIX for the design, implementation, operation and continuous evolution of the FENIX Authentication and Authorisation Infrastructure (AAI). The AAI is a core component of the research infrastructure, which aims to connect users as seamlessly as possible to the services offered by the supercomputing centres to the EBRAINS platform and other Generic Community Platforms, using a single set of credentials.


To read more about the Human Brain Project and explore interactive 3D brain atlases, visit https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/en/