Scientists to create computer simulation of human brain

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There can be few competitions with such a rich prize - a massive one billion euros.

That's what a team of European scientists are aiming to win. In return they are promising to create a simulated computer version of the human brain.

The Human Brain Project is one of six research proposals competing for EU funding under its Future and Emerging Technologies initiative.

Universities and organisations from nine countries in Europe are part of the brain research group, among them the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and researchers in Manchester, Plymouth, London and Leicester.

"Our aim is to use supercomputers to establish how the brain is designed and to build a biologically detailed simulation", according to Professor Henry Markram, director of the Human Brain Project.

"There are thousands of research papers published each year on aspects of neuroscience. We need to integrate all that information so that we can assemble all knowledge of the brain."

The human brain has taken millions of years to evolve so it is a tall order to build a synthetic model in just a decade.

The hope is that the simulated brain would help improve the diagnosis and treatment of disease. "One in three of us will get some form of brain disease in our lives, so we need to solve that", said Professor Markram.

US neuroscientists have similar ambitions. At a meeting in Boston earlier this week they announced a 10 year plan aimed at creating a deeper understanding of brain science.

It came on the eve of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's speech in which he promised to put a man on the moon within a decade.

His nephew, former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy, helped to launch the initiative, called "One Mind for Research", along with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and the actor Martin Sheen. Kennedy described brain research the new "moon shot".