Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham has become the first Indian University to partner with European Union’s Human Brain Project (HBP) that has 143 university institutes in Europe working together to better understand brain function and develop solutions to cure brain diseases. An MoU was signed between Amrita and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland for working together on the project, in collaboration with the University of Pavia in Italy and Aix-Marseille University in France.
The development comes close on the heels of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham launching the Amrita Mind-Brain Center (AMBC) at its Amritapuri campus in Kerala to strengthen fundamental research related to brain, cognition, computations and neuro-engineering. Led by Associate Professor Dr Shyam Diwakar as its Director, the Center will develop new technologies to investigate brain function, dysfunction, and therapy.
Talking about the MoU, Dr Shyam Diwakar, Associate Professor, Amrita School of Biotechnology, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, said: “Functional signals directed by MRI techniques are widely used in speciality hospitals to monitor brain activity non-invasively. However, to connect these signals to the underlying activity of brain cells or neurons has been a challenge. In a project called BOLDsim, which is a part of the Human Brain Project’s voucher grant, we will develop a new computational tool for modelling functional signals in the brain using cellular data-driven models.”
The BOLDsim project will model special signals generated by brain activity, called the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals, using cellular-level data available with the HBP’s Brain Simulation Platform as well as with the team of Prof. Egidio D’Angelo of the University of Pavia in Italy. This model will be made freely available to neuroscience researchers and to the whole-brain simulator called ‘The Virtual Brain’ that is being developed at Aix-Marseille University, France. Modelling will allow experts a clearer look to understand how brain conditions manifest and to point to changes in neural circuits during certain healthy or disease conditions as seen in patients. The HBP project will run until 2023, although its first-level stage is expected to be completed by October 2021.
Dr Shyam Diwakar said: “Neuroscientists often want to understand health and disease in the brain and spinal cord from both cellular and behavioural levels to correctly map how a disease affects a person. Since 2009, we at Amrita have been developing models of the cerebellum and how its signals are affected during various conditions. We have been using experimental data and computer simulations to develop a better understanding of how the brain operates. The BOLDsimproject will enhance the usability of our computer models and scale a new dimension towards assessing brain health and disease. It will allow a new understanding of how the brain computes, in addition to being used as medical prediction models.”
According to Dr Venkat Rangan, Vice-Chancellor, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham: “I am very happy that Amrita has become the first University in India to partner with EU’s Human Brain Project and will model a simulator for better understanding of brain conditions and brain function. Amrita is a research-intensive institution that has over the last 15 years established more than 180 collaborations with the top-500 world-ranked universities. This MoU will add a new dimension to our university’s cutting-edge neuroscience research.”