Allen Institute advances brain-mapping ambitions with cell-type database

The Allen Institute for Brain Science has released an online database of neuron cell types, building blocks it thinks will lead to the creation of computer models of healthy brains. Publication of the free database marks an important, early milestone for the research program triggered by a $300 million donation from Microsoft ($MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen in 2012.

The Seattle, WA-based Allen Institute has included the profiles of about 240 neurons found in the visual cortexes of mice in the first version of the database. For each neuron, the Allen Institute has gathered high-resolution micrographs, 3-D models and electrophysiology data. Over time, the institute plans to supplement the existing data on cell shape, location and electrophysiology with a fourth component: gene expression. The Allen Institute will also swell the database by adding data from human brains and a wider selection of neurons.

The end goal is to have the neurological equivalent of the periodic table. In working toward this eventual objective, the Allen Institute sees multiple nearer-term opportunities to apply its growing resource to research. The Seattle Times reports the creation of computer models of healthy brains is an initial goal for the team. Armed with such a picture of a healthy brain, researchers may start to better understand what happens in neurological diseases, an approach reminiscent of Google's ($GOOG) Baseline Study.

The Allen Institute also has an eye out for opportunities to commercialize its work. Xconomy reports the institute's leaders are open to spinning out the tools and software they discover. Timelines and plans are hazy, at least publicly, at this stage but licensing is definitely on the agenda.

- read Seattle Times' article
- here's Xconomy's coverage
- check out Wired's take
- and Forbes' piece

Special Report: Fierce's Top 10 Biotech Techies- 2013 - Paul Allen