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Professor Robert W. Williams, PhD, at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Selected by European Commission to Participate in Human Brain Project

The European Commission has officially announced the selection of the Human Brain Project (HBP) as one of its two FET Flagship projects (Future & Emerging Technologies). The new project will federate European efforts to address one of the greatest challenges of modern science: understanding the human brain.

The goal of the Human Brain Project is to pull together all our existing knowledge about the human brain and to reconstruct the brain, piece by piece, in supercomputer-based models and simulations. The models offer the prospect of a new understanding of the human brain and its diseases and of completely new computing and robotic technologies. On January 28, the European Commission supported this vision, announcing that it has selected the HBP as one of two projects to be funded through the new FET Flagship Program.

Federating more than 80 European and international research institutions, the Human Brain Project is planned to last ten years (2013-2023). The cost is estimated at 1.19 billion Euros (more than $2.5 billion). The project will also associate some important North American partners. It will be coordinated at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, by neuroscientist Henry Markram with co-directors Karlheinz Meier of Heidelberg University, Germany, and Richard Frackowiak of Clinique Hospitalière Universitaire Vaudoise (CHUV) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL).

“UTHSC's role is to assemble massive genetic data sets and to build computer systems for the analysis of brain function and disease,” said Robert W. Williams, UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. “We will build a sophisticated tool kit for joint genetic studies of humans and mouse models of human brain disease.”

Dr. Williams is one of four scientists in the U.S.A. who are part of the first phase of this massive project. The other three U.S. institutions involved in the project are the Allen Institute for Brain Research, the University of California Los Angeles and Yale University. For his part of the HBP, Dr. Williams, and his collaborators in the United States and the EU could share funding of approximately 7.3 million Euros over 10 years (about $9.8 million).

The selection of the Human Brain Project as a FET Flagship is the result of more than three years of preparation and a rigorous and severe evaluation by a large panel of independent, high profile scientists, chosen by the European Commission. In the coming months, the partners will negotiate a detailed agreement with the Community for the initial first two and a half year ramp-up phase (2013-mid 2016). The project will begin work in the closing months of 2013.

FET Flagships are ambitious large-scale, science-driven, research initiatives that aim to achieve a visionary goal. The scientific advance should provide a strong and broad basis for future technological innovation and economic exploitation in a variety of areas, as well as novel benefits for society.

About the University of Tennessee Health Science Center

As the statewide, public academic health system, the mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service. Offering a broad range of postgraduate and selected baccalaureate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Allied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. UTHSC also educates and trains cohorts of medicine, pharmacy and/or allied health students -- in addition to medical residents and fellows -- at its major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. Founded in 1911, during its more than 100 years, UT Health Science Center has educated and trained more than 53,000 health care professionals in academic settings and health care facilities across the state. For more information, visit www.uthsc.edu.

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