Issue 7, October 2010
bulletMapping and Understanding the Brain
bulletInterview: Dr. Bert Sakmann
bulletMapping the Brain: Reconstructing the Cerebral Cortex
bulletInnovation: Anatomical Models of the Human Skull for Preoperative Planning
bulletCenter for Economics and Neuroscience at the University of Bonn
bulletUnderstanding the Brain: Research at the Munich Center for Neurosciences
Mapping and Understanding the Brain
Understanding the functional organization of the brain, its capacities and limitations, is the prerequisite for the prevention and treatment of diseases of the nervous system. The field of computational neuroscience is an interdisciplinary approach in which biologists, chemists, physicists, psychologists, physicians, and engineers join forces to investigate the brain.
Since 2004, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has supported the development of the Bernstein Network of Computational Neuroscience. Named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1839 - 1917), whose membrane theory provided the first biophysical explanation for neuronal transmission, the core elements of the Bernstein Network are the Bernstein Centers for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, Freiburg, Göttingen, Heidelberg-Mannheim, Munich and Tübingen. Bernstein partner projects, consisting of five Bernstein groups and eleven Bernstein collaborations, complement the network. The Bernstein Network will staff a booth at the 2010 Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting from November 14 to 17 in San Diego. Nearby, in booth #3927, GCRI Director Dr. Joann Halpern will present information about the German research landscape and "Research in Germany".
Featuring German Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Bert Sakmann, this issue of E-NNOVATION GERMANY focuses on "Mapping the Brain". Dr. Sakmann, a world-renowned German scientist, who together with Erwin Neher invented the patch clamp technique, will talk about his research next week at the GCRI and in the following interview.

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DR. Bert Sakmann

GCRI-Interview with German Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Bert Sakmann 
Dr. Bert Sakmann, with physicist Erwin Neher, was awarded the 1991 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for their discoveries on single channels in cells, enabled by their invention of the patch clamp technique. Their ground-breaking technique, that is now commonplace in laboratories around the world, allows researchers to measure electrical activity and chemical flow across cell membranes and single ion channels. Currently, the inaugural scientific director and research group leader of the digital neuroanatomy group at the Max Planck Florida Institute, Dr. Sakmann now focuses on a program dedicated to obtaining a three-dimensional map of the normal rodent brain. On November 3, he will speak about "Mapping the Brain: Reconstrcuting the Cerebral Cortex" at the GCRI. In the GCRI-Interview, Dr. Sakmann talks about the role of the touch system's digital anatomy in processing sensory information in the brain, neuroinformatics as an integral part of neuroscience, and how sensing, thinking, and learning affect the electrical signaling in the brain. To read the full interview, please click here. For Dr. Sakmann's bio, please follow this link.   

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Mapping the Brain

Mapping the Brain: Reconstructing the Cerebral Cortex
On November 3, the GCRI and the Max Planck Florida Institute will host a lecture on "Mapping the Brain: Reconstructing the Cerebral Cortex" featuring Nobel Prize Laureate and Inaugural Scientific Director of the Max Planck Florida Institute, Dr. Bert Sakmann. Dr. Sakmann will explain how nocturnal rodents, like rats, rely on sensory input from their facial whiskers for navigation through the environment. During exploratory behaviors such animals actively move their vibrissae back and forth, "touching" everything within reach. Sensory input from "touch" further enables rats to locate objects, discriminate textures or estimate distances. Whiskers can hence be regarded as the rat's fingertips. To read the full abstract for the event, please click here. Please note that seating is very limited and that RSVP is on a first-come, first-served basis, and ends on October 29.

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Innovation: Anatomical Models of the Human Skull for Preoperative Planning
The Leipzig-based company PHACON develops and produces surgical simulation systems for education and training, combining real skull models with virtual representations. Based on CT-or MRI-images, patient-individual 3D models can be created for preoperative planning of complex surgical interventions.
Surgeons of several disciplines can then practice interventions (e.g. the ablation of bone tissue in temporal bone surgery) under realistic conditions. Using surgical instruments during the simulation, the surgeon has realistic haptic experiences, where the system is able to detect injuries of critical structures, such as nerves and vessels, sending a signal to the surgeon. A webcam-based navigation system enables the surgeon to determine the position of the instrument's tip within the CT images in real-time during the training procedure. With the possibility to apply every surgical instrument as a "virtual endoscope", the surgeon sees the 3D representation of the anatomical structures in the software as well as on the real model. The software further allows the user to change the transparencies of the anatomical structures for better visibility. Founded in 2007, PHACON GmbH was nominated as one of the three startup companies for the 2010 German Business Founder Award. For more information, please visit

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Center for Economics and Neurosciences (CENs) at the University of Bonn
"Neuroeconomics" has only recently evolved as an interdisciplinary research field. The goal is to better understand the basics of human decision-making in social and economic contexts using methods from the neurosciences and economics. In other words, neuroeconomics expands social sciences by using insights about brain activity, genetics and other important physiological markers. The University of Bonn has founded the Center for Economics and Neurosciences (CENs) headed by economist Armin Falk, neuroscientist Bernd Weber and personality geneticist Martin Reuter. The center is devoted to publishing neuroeconomics research and to providing a platform for neuroeconomics researchers worldwide. Current research topics comprise the genetic and neuronal foundation of economic preferences such as risk attitudes, trust or reciprocity, the neural correlates of simple decision-making (such as buying decisions) and the formation of cognitive and non-cognitive skills. An example of a concrete study that shows how insights from neuroscience methods can inform economics, is a paper on the impact of social comparisons on reward related brain activity using functional MRI. For more information on the Center for Economics and Neurosciences, please click here.  

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Munich Center for Neuroscience

Understanding the Brain: Research at the Munich Center for Neurosciences - Brain and Mind
The rapidly growing and increasingly detailed knowledge of neural systems, combined with our progress in developing increasingly refined experimental methods, present a novel opportunity to address issues related to brain function and the basis of human cognition. However, these issues are of a level of such complexity that traditional biological methods alone fail to provide comprehensive answers to questions of brain structure-cognitive function relationships. Therefore, integration of experimental and theoretical approaches - allowing for mathematical validations of experimental results on the one hand, and experimental confirmation of theoretical concepts on the other - have become essential in modern biology.
The goal of the Munich Center for Neurosciences - Brain and Mind is to create a network of groups and disciplines with common interests in neurobiology, cognition, and "brain and mind". All fields of research bearing on questions of brain and mind are integrated: most obviously philosophy, psychology and experimental neurosciences, but also theoretical neurosciences, such as computational neuroscience. For an introduction to the associated Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Muenchen (LMU), please view this video

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