Scientists at the University of British Columbia are reverse engineering the brain and hope to get the first working computational model that will demonstrate the complex interaction between mind and body.
UBC computer science professor Prof. Dinesh Pai said that the phenomenon of what is really going on between your brain, your eyes and your hands is still a mystery.
"No one has ever completely mapped out the processes at the level of specific neurons, muscles and tendons," Science Daily quoted him, as saying.
"Essentially, we are reverse engineering the brain to produce the first working computational model of the complex interplay between our minds and our bodies," he added.
The project could produce great leaps forward in many areas, including medicine, industry and robotics. Although the project is just ramping up, the team's mapping and modeling expedition is already producing some of the world's most realistic computer simulations of the human body.
"Our research is really guided by a desire to determine and model exactly what is happening under our skin, first and foremost," said Pai, who recently received 500,000 dollars from UBC's Peter Wall Institute for the project.
"Current robots have as much in common with human movements as helicopters do with seagulls. The challenges are similar, but they use completely different solutions," he added.
To make the project a reality, Pai has brought together a multidisciplinary dream team from Canada (UBC, McGill), the U.S. (UCLA, University of Washington, Northwestern University, Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute), Japan (Digital Human Research Centre) and Italy (Santa Lucia Foundation.)
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the team is cataloging body parts and functions and tracing their interactions with the brain. This information is being used to create a working three-dimensional computer model of all these functions.
"We are in uncharted territory, in terms of computing. It's not like you can find software like this at your local Future Shop or Best Buy. So we have been creating our own as we go along," Pai said.
He added that eventually, the team's findings will enable doctors to test surgical outcomes before picking up a scalpel.
"There is an amazing amount of variance between humans - skeletons, organs, muscles can all differ in size from person to person. That means there is always some guesswork involved in surgery," he said.
"But if you can give someone an MRI and create a personalized computer model, suddenly a doctor has more information to work with.
"They can say, 'If I cut this tendon, what exactly is going to happen, given this patient's unique body,'" he added.