Researchers Use Crowdsourcing To Help Advance Brain Studies

Researchers are leveraging social networking techniques like crowdsourcing to gain a better understanding of the biology of brain function, the New York Times reports (Carey, New York Times, 4/15).

Crowdsourcing refers to the process of developing a group consensus by pooling ideas from a broad community, often over the Internet (iHealthBeat, 10/8/10).

Using Crowdsourcing for Brain Research

According to the Times, the high cost and complexity of brain imaging studies have made it difficult for researchers to determine how common gene variations affect thought and behavior.

However, researchers recently used crowdsourcing to combine data from more than 200 scientists, helping them identify genes that play a role in brain size and memory. The findings were published in a series of papers in the journal Nature Genetics.

Research Details

The research was led by:

  • Barbara Franke of the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands;
  • Nick Martin and Margaret Wright of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia; and
  • Paul Thompson, a professor of neurology at the University of California-Los Angeles.

The scientists worked with research centers across the world to compile a large-scale database of genetic and brain imaging results from 21,000 patients.

By analyzing the data and comparing the findings with a similar large-scale analysis conducted by a Boston University-led research consortium, the researchers were able to reach a consensus about a certain gene that plays a role in brain size and another gene that affects memory deterioration.

Implications

The findings are unlikely to lead to new treatments in the near future, according to the Times.

However, Thompson said, "What's really new here is this movement toward crowdsourcing brain research." Thompson called the study "an example of social networking in science." He noted that the findings demonstrate that "sharing your data, pooling everything" can provide researchers with "a power we have not had" (New York Times, 4/15).


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