Mendelspod: What Have We Learned from the Brain Map Project So Far? with Tom Nowakowski, UCSF

After ten years, the human brain mapping project has achieved some major milestones, says Tom Nowakowski, a researcher at UCSF, on today’s program.  He says that mapping the brain is a “moon shot” easily on par with the Human Genome Project.

So much of biology is basic quantification.  Brain scientists are beginning to quantify how many kinds of brain cells there are.  They are learning more about the function of various cells such as glial cells.  And they are developing a common language with each other.  A few years ago, if you put two brain scientists in a room together, they would not know how to speak to each other.

One of the major technologies that have enabled this new quantification and characterization of the human brain is single-cell spatial genomics. Tom and other scientists have learned that there are 5,000 transcriptomic clusters that they associate with cell type.

‘“If you told me ten years ago when I was finishing my Ph.D. that one day we’d be making real progress on neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders without having to rely on a mouse model.  I would think it was unthinkable.  Here we are; we finally have technologies where you don’t need transgenic mouse models to make progress.  That is just terribly exciting.”