Brain mapping: the team leading the international study is Italian

The SENSEI project of the Enrico Piaggio Center of the University of Pisa is Partnering of the Human Brain Project for the development of an international scientific study on the detailed mapping of brain neurons. The interview with Prof. Vanello coordinator of the study.

Purkinje Magenta modificata per evidenza

The brain is one of the most important and complex organs in the body. It controls thinking, memory, emotions and every process that regulates our body. 

The functioning of the brain and the genesis of important pathologies affecting the central nervous system also pass through the possibility of understanding how neurons, how they are arranged and how they exchange information.

One of the most important challenges of scientific research in neuroscience it is precisely that of accurately mapping the brain on the micro and nanometer scale. A goal that the project is working on SENSEI (SEgmentation of Neurons using Standard and supEr-resolution mIcroscopy) of the Enrico Piaggio Research Center of the University of Pisa, coordinated by prof. Nicola Vanello, associate professor of bioengineering of the Italian research center. "There is information on the structures of neurons that are important for understanding their function, such as in memory processes or their role in the development of certain pathologies. Our job is to find a tool that can understand the shape of neurons", said prof. Nicola Vanello in the video interview for the Journal of Italian Healthcare World.

How was the project born?

How important is it for the Italian research center to collaborate with a multidisciplinary team at the international level?

Tools currently to provision for brain mapping

Recently, many advances have been made both in terms of neuronal cell imaging tools, such as three-dimensional microscopy techniques, and in terms of specimen processing protocols. These include fluorescent probes that hook onto the membrane of neurons and allow them to be visualized better, or methods of tissue clarification, which allow better investigation of them in deep layers. Together these techniques allow the visualization of large brain volumes at cellular and subcellular resolution. Despite this, it is still complex today to segment neurons at different scales, or levels of detail. In particular, it is necessary to have complete, robust and specific information in order to understand the physiological functioning and possibly characterize the pathological one. To improve this critical aspect, it would be useful to develop image processing algorithms capable of handling 3D microscopic data acquired from different imaging modalities, representing samples processed with different procedures, and belonging to different brain areas. 

SENSEI, selected from European consortium FLAG-ERA which supports Flagships, with the role of Partnering Project of Flagship Human Brain Projectit will therefore provide new image processing tools along with innovative imaging modalities dedicated to advancing discoveries in 3D neuronal segmentation and morphometry. The FLAG-ERA consortium brings together teams with long-standing experience in signal and image processing (UNIPI, Italy), live imaging and super resolution analysis (Lydia Danglot per INSERM, France) and development of new super resolution imaging devices (Peter Dedecker for KUL, Belgium).

From left: Ing. Alejandro Callara, Ing. Chiara Magliaro and Prof. Nicola Vanello


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