The web-based 3-D map of gene expression in the mouse brain is considered a scientific advancement for mental disorders that affect around 26% of Americans or 57.7 million people.
The Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle produced the Allen Brain Atlas. The Allen Institute was started in 2003 and the Atlas project was also initiated at that time. The $100 million given by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen funded both.
It took 3 years and a screening of over 21,000 genes at the cellular level, for the scientists to develop the map that provides enormous amount of data like never before.
"We've captured 85 million images. That would be like filling 20,000 iPods!" said Allan Jones, the institute's chief scientific officer, at a press conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
"About 90 percent of the genes in a mouse's brain have a human counterpart, so the mouse atlas can serve as a close analogue for gene locations in people, " researchers said.
The atlas is helpful in indicating the areas of the brain affected by a particular disease. It also reveals which genes would be expressed and which would be turned "off". This may help the scientists get a better picture of the activities in the brains of people suffering from mental disorders like autism, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Bill Thies, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association, said, "The creation of the atlas as a sign of progress. They [mice] will accept human genes, which allows mice to exhibit the biochemistry of Alzheimer's in humans. The Brain Atlas will allow us to do research faster and to get some answers we may not have had before."
David Anderson, a professor of biology at the California Institute of Technology, added, "The amount of information provided by the atlas is just as important as the Human Genome Project — a national research project that scientists believe identified all the genes in human DNA."
"The atlas can tell us where genes are, help us identify stem cells, and help us find out how the brain works," he said.
Several important findings have been contributed by the Brain Atlas project. According to the project, 80% of the genes in the brain are expressed and several genes are expressed in more than one area of the brain. These findings will aid doctors and scientists in investigating the advantages and possible side effects of drug treatments.
The current study at the Allen Institute for Brain Science is on particular areas of human brain.