Those six schools -- Duke, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Tennessee at Memphis, the University of California at Los Angeles, Drexel College of Medicine and the University of California at San Diego -- are connected via a very high speed network with each other as well as with the San Diego Supercomputing Center.
The consortium has developed the computer infrastructure to collect a rapidly growing library of 3-D mouse brain data, and make all the data available on the web http://tinyurl.com/3cgj6z. The goal is to use mouse brains as surrogates for human brains to study the connections between genes and brain structure. Investigators from all over the world are sending their models to Duke where the 3-D images are acquired in a standardized fashion and made available via high speed web connections.
High resolution magnetic resonance imaging -- which the researchers call "MRI histology" provides distortion-free 3-D images with superb ability to distinguish subtle tissue differences in the brain, according to Johnson.
"The specimen is still actually in the skull," he said. "It hasn't been cut by a knife. It has not been dehydrated and distorted as it would be in conventional histological techniques."
Using computer-guided statistical methods, the data can be segmented into more than 30 anatomical structures with quantitative volume measurements. These structures can then be computer-enhanced to produce color-coded and labeled volume renderings of selected anatomical details in 3-D, seen at any angle.
MRI scanning is also quicker and costs less than conventional histology, he said. MRI histology permits study of an entire brain, which would be prohibitively expensive using conventional methods.