A $40.5 million collaborative research center headquartered at Seattle’s Allen Institute aims to create high-resolution maps of brains ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease, to trace new paths to early diagnosis and treatment.
Previous versions of the atlas were rendered with lower-resolution 3-D maps. The latest high-resolution maps are fine enough to pinpoint the locations of individual brain cells — which is crucial for interpreting datasets that contain thousands or millions of pieces of information.
“In the old days, people would define different regions of the brain by eye. As we get more and more data, that manual curation doesn’t scale anymore,” Lydia Ng, senior director of technology at the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science, explained in a news release. “Just as we have a reference genome sequence, you need a reference anatomy.”
Seattle’s Allen Institute is heading into a new phase of research into neuroscience — a phase that includes reorganizing its current activities as well as adding new ones.
The Allen Institute for Brain Science, which is the largest division under the institute’s umbrella, was established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2003 and has continued on its mission since Allen’s death in 2018. It’s grown to more than 300 scientists and staff members who work in two broad research areas.
One program, known as Cell Types, focuses on mapping out a “periodic table” of brain cells. The Allen Institute’s new 16-year plan calls for the Allen Institute for Brain Science to focus solely on studying brain cell types and neural connectivity.
The second program, known as MindScope, seeks to understand how the brain’s neural circuits produce the sense of vision. That field of study, along with the Allen Brain Observatory, will transition out of the Allen Institute for Brain Science to become a separate program at the Allen Institute.
A new division, due for launch in 2022, will focus on research related to neural computation and dynamics.
A consortium of tech leaders — including Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Microsoft and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s charity — today unveiled an AI-enabled database that’s meant to give researchers quicker, surer access to resources relating to coronavirus and how to stop it.
The COVID-19 Open Research Dataset, or CORD-19, was created in response to a request from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. It takes advantage of AI tools to organize more than 24,000 articles about the COVID-19 disease and the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes it.
“We think that AI has an important part to play in solving this problem,” said Doug Raymond, general manager for the Semantic Scholar academic search engine at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, also known as AI2.
AI2’s CEO, Oren Etzioni, said his team leapt at the opportunity to participate in CORD-19. “We hesitated all of negative-two seconds,” he joked.
Ani Kembhavi, a research scientist at AI2, says RoboTHOR focuses on the next step. “If you can train a deep-learning, computer vision model to do something in an embodied environment … how well would this model work when deployed in an actual robot?” he told GeekWire.
The addition, which took effect Jan. 1, leverages existing ties between UW and the legacy of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who created AI2 in 2014. The entrepreneur and philanthropist, who passed away in 2018, is memorialized by UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.
But wait … there’s more: The fund also draws upon high-profile investors and mentors including Tableau Software CEO Adam Selipsky, Drive.ai co-founder Carol Reiley and Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke.
For years, neuroscientists have been monitoring the brain activity of mice as they looked at a wide range of images — including the film-noir classic “Touch of Evil” — in hopes of discovering deep insights about the workings of the visual system. Now they’ve come upon a plot twist worthy of director Orson Welles himself.
The latest results, reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience by researchers at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science and at the University of Washington, suggest that more than 90% of the neurons in the visual cortex don’t work the way scientists thought.
“We thought that there are simple principles according to which these neurons process visual information, and those principles are all in the textbooks,” Christof Koch, the brain institute’s chief scientist and president, said in a news release. ”But now that we can survey tens of thousands of cells at once, we get a more subtle — and much more complicated picture.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“To me, that’s the business. In some sense, that’s the exciting thing,” Michael Buice, an associate investigator at the Allen Institute and one of the study’s lead authors, told GeekWire. “We’re in a more interesting place than we thought.”
The themes for this year’s Allen Distinguished Investigators focus on stem cell therapies and single-cell interactions in their native environments.
“The field of stem cell biology has the potential to change how we treat diseases by helping precision medicine, and there’s so much we still don’t understand about the interplay between cells in living tissues or organs,” Kathy Richmond, director of the Frontiers Group, said today in a news release.
“Our 2019 Allen Distinguished Investigators are pushing their fields in these two areas, through new technology development, probing pivotal interactions in the body that cause health to fail, and generating creative new stem cell models that will improve our understanding of different human diseases,” she said.