Letter from the President: The Democratization of Neuroscience – Big Science in Individual Labs
The democratization of neuroscience is a movement that aims to make neuroscience research more accessible and inclusive to everyone. This movement is based on the principles of open science and aims to make neuroscience research more transparent, collaborative, and accessible to researchers around the world.
At MBF Bioscience, democratizing neuroscience has been part of our DNA since our founding 35 years ago when we launched Neurolucida. Our goal was to provide affordable, cutting-edge technology to neuroscience laboratories in every institution worldwide so that neuroscientists could make discoveries without having huge research budgets or having computer programmers on staff.
When we started MBF, advances in Neuroscience research were driven by individual investigators. More and more “big science” is having a greater impact on the field. This transition began around the turn of the century, with the discovery that there are more than 20,000 unique genes in the brain. Advances in molecular biologic, neuroanatomical, neurophysiologic and computational techniques employed by teams of researchers at research institutes or by networked labs at multiple universities have analyzed the complexity of the brain’s neural circuits comprised of thousands of unique neuron subtypes. Amongst “big science” projects are those that produced whole brain maps of the expression of 20,000 genes, the connectome of hundreds of neuron subtypes, the axonal projections of thousands of individual neurons and the physiologic characteristics of hundreds of genetically unique neuron subtypes. Typically, publication of these projects includes upwards of 50 authors, indicative of the effort required. The value of these large-scale databases and data sets is the ability to extract information about specific brain circuits to understand how their function generates behavior. This is the work still primarily driven by individual investigators, who continue to make conceptual advances in the field now aided by the resources provided by “big science”.
One of our long-time users, Dr. Charles Gerfen, has been involved in several “big science” projects, including the GENSAT project at NIMH/NINDS with Dr. Nat Heintz at Rockefeller University that generated 300 Cre-expressing transgenic mouse lines, the Allen Institute’s Mouse Connectome study that mapped the projections of neuron subtypes from 1000 brain areas, and the HHMI Janelia Mouse Light Project that traced the axonal projections of 900 individual cortical neurons. With teams of researchers these projects each mapped the distribution and connections of diverse subtypes of neurons into a standard whole brain atlas to provide a searchable “google map-like” database of brain circuits.
With advice from Dr. Gerfen, MBF developed a new software platform called NeuroInfo, that incorporates functions to allow individual researchers to map their neuroanatomical data into a standard atlas framework. NeuroInfo is becoming a widely used platform for individual researchers to use a “big science” approach to study their specific biologic questions of interest to understand how neural circuits are related to neurologic and mental disorders.
At MBF Bioscience, we’re committed to providing the best products and value to neuroscientists in labs of all sizes. We’re focused on making our products something that labs can rely on for years to come at a reasonable cost with great support. We’re proud of our own accomplishments and how we’ve adapted and evolved over the years to bring the most advanced technology at affordable prices to labs around the world.