Medical testing on lab mice is one of those issues that is far from black and white. On the one hand, we've gained so many medical advances from the practice that have significantly improved our lives, but on the other, innocent creatures are subject to a wide range of experiments that can be cruel and painful.
Luckily, the researchers at the Human Brain Project are working on a way to let us get the results of those experiments without having to harm a living being.They are building a virtual mouse that will be an exact computer model of the real thing so that future medical research can be modeled as accurately as if it were done on a real mouse.
Right now, the team has been able to map 200,000 neurons in the mouse brain to the corresponding points in the body that would stimulate them. For example, touching the virtual mouse's whiskers activates the corresponding parts of the mouse sensory cortex.
The mouse brain has 75 million neurons, so there's still work to be done, but the researchers are gathering data quickly and the first version of the software will be released to collaborators in April.
The scientists are collecting their data points from biological data collected by the Allen Brain Institute in Seattle and the Biomedical Informatics Research Network in San Diego. They are integrating various types of data into this one model to make it richly layered. They expect that as they work, advances in technology will make the model more and more realistic.
When the model is further along, the software will be available to scientists worldwide.