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Medical Implications of Open Source Neuroscience

Through our previous Open Science articles, we have focused on various fields about the significance of adopting an Open Source Approach in Science and Technology. Let’s now dive deeper into the spectrum by looking into some important aspects of Neuroscience.

In this new article on open science, we are going to start with Neuroscience with an Open Source perspective of course, and look into its Medical Implications in terms of medicine and beyond. We talk about modern neuroscience in particular and look into some of its branches as well, where Open Source proves to be a great advantage. Along the way through this reading, we’ll also explore some FOSS developments in Neuroscience.

Let’s start with this remarkable video that highlights distinct cases of brain diagnosis. Dr. Daniel Amen clearly explains how each brain needs to be diagnosed differently, every method of which can be so unique.

What is Neuroscience?

Anatomy of two representative neurons in the brain and a synapse between them. Path of electrical current indicated with yellow arrows. Inset, close-up view of the synapse. Illustration adapted from Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center, National Institutes on Aging, U.S. National Institutes of Health | Caption Source | Image Source

The basic idea of Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system through current and evolving scientific methods. It is all about a vast and expansive network of neurons and synapses not just limited to the brain but beyond.

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Why is Neuroscience so important?

The key to understanding several neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and many other challenging diseases depend on the latest advancements in Clinical Neuroscience.

Neuroengineering

Adopting an engineering approach to better understand, repair and improve neural systems is known as Neuroengineering. In modern neuroscience, neuroengineering can be of great significance due to its limitless perspectives to connect with cognition and understand the grey matter. A tool very commonly referred to in this domain is a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI).

The following video brings to you the story behind OpenBCI, an Open Source powered interface that received more than a double of its target funding objective on Kickstarter.

Open Ephys is another Open Source Initiative for Neuroscience hardware. The main motivation behind Open Ephys was to build awareness on how Open Source:

  • Eliminates redundancy
  • Reduces costs
  • Increases productivity

Read about a related paper here. Their story highlights all the foundational ideas behind Open Ephys.

Prosthetics and Enhancements

No more just enabling the disabled, talk about super-human abilities!

Basically, a prosthetic is a replacement for any part of the body. But an enhancement can be something with a function that does not exist in its natural form!

For many years now, neuroengineers around the world have been developing neural prosthetics built with designs based on different hardware frameworks. Some of these neuro-prosthetics are now so advanced that they hardly have a noticeable difference in terms of usability.

Amazing neural designs have now made it possible to help people do things they thought they couldn’t anymore. But that doesn’t end there. These prosthetics have now enabled people to perform unbelievable superhuman tasks with ease. Kinda hints you to DC’s Cyborg eh? How far are we from fiction?

Well, the real world knows Neil Harbisson, as the first cyborg on the planet. If you are curious, check out the following TEDx video to know what the journey of becoming a cyborg can be all about:

Interestingly, a curious developer on GitHub tried the same experiment as described in Neil’s TEDx video with Python to demonstrate the same results.

All of this cybernetic hardware that we talked about are mostly community-powered by Open Source software, making it easier to address any issues the user might come across. It is always easier to repair or calibrate a Medical enhancement if the software that runs on it is Open Source.

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Neuroinformatics

Just like Bioinformatics, as we discussed in our previous science article, we can define Neuroinformatics by revisiting the same definition:

Neuroinformatics is an interdisciplinary subject unifying Computer Science and Neuroscience which involves developing computational methods and software tools to analyze and interpret neurological data.

Computational Neurology and Neuroinformatics have the same differences that Computational Biology and Bioinformatics have between each other as we discussed earlier.

You might be wondering about using the phrases “Computational Neurology” and “Computational Neuroscience”. There is a very basic difference between the two terms. Neurology is a branch of Neuroscience to study Neurological systems with a Medical perspective, to address diseases related to the nervous system, whereas Neuroscience can be anything about the nervous system in general. Read more about them here.

Open Source Neuroscience

The Open Letter to which over 200 people comprising of scientists, innovators and researchers have made their commitment towards adopting an Open Source Approach in all of their research endeavours in Neuroscience can be found at opensourceforneuroscience.org. This gave birth to the Open Source Neuroscience Movement.

All of these people have come to a noble agreement followed by a conference titled Collaborative Development of Data-Driven Models of Neural Systems held on September 2016 at the Janelia Research Campus.

The respective paper titled “A Commitment to Open Source in Neuroscience” is open access and is available on the Cell journal named Neuron, which includes a very thoughtful statement:

There can be many interpretations of what “should” be shared, but there needs to be a transition from the old attitude that there is no obligation or motivation to release any code associated with a publication, to a mindset that the code release can improve the scientific worth of a publication as well as provide benefits for the lab and the community in general.

This initiative will help a lot in strengthening honest research practices on such a sensitive topic so closely related to understanding and diagnosing psychiatric disorders. The reason behind the same is that when someone submits a paper to any Neuroscience related journal, any software source code that has been used for that research would have to be made available along with it as well. Doing this establishes a stronger validation of the research paper under review.

Open Neuroscience is an information repository that follows a very similar ideology. It stores project links on sites like GitHub that only center around Neuroscience. The repository has been built with the help of a network of collaborators with one common goal: to keep track of and curate interesting Open Source projects related to Neuroscience.

Lets now look into the Implications of all that we discussed above in terms of Medical Neuroscience.

Open Source Brain Initiative

The Open Source Brain Initiative is based on simulating different regions of the human brain in order to understand it better.

When we talk about clinical neuroscience, a commitment towards strictly following an Open Source Approach is very necessary to ensure transparent research efforts and hassle-free diagnosis and treatment.

Neurotica

Neurotica is an open-source Neuroscience library for Mathematica (a modern technical computing system covering most areas of technical computing). The Neurotica library, in particular, has some very interesting features, including one to handle 3D MRI data.

Neuropharma

As we already know, the term pharma relates to medicine in general, neuropharma specifically refers to medicine made for neurological or psychiatric disorders only.

Open Source Neuropharma

Open Molecular Neuroscience follows an Open Source Pharma approach to ensure better collaborations in improving existing drugs or developing new ones to combat schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders which is the main idea behind Open Source Neuropharma.

Open Source Neuroscience greatly impacts Open Source Neuropharma. These approaches will lead to better transparent practices in the development of neuro-drugs.

Using Open Source Software and Linux in Clinical Neuroscience will ensure a better understanding of any research goal targeted towards better neuropharmacology, especially in collaborative initiatives among neuroscientists and researchers. The foundation to these efforts has already been laid via Open Source Pharma (discussed in our preceding open science article).

For example, Schizophrenia is a neurological disease that occurs due to a neurodegenerative disorder giving rise to hallucinations and delusions. These hallucinations and delusions can tend to be visible, audible or sensory. Neuro-drugs continue to get developed to this day in order to confront Schizophrenia by suppressing or alleviating these symptoms.

The OPTICS Project is an initiative that was created with the sole purpose to provide an open platform for true translational science in Schizophrenia research. It is a great example of Open Science.

The OPTICS Project aims to demonstrate the value of an open-science approach to better understand the efficacy and safety of medicines used to treat schizophrenia and schizophrenia as a disease, including natural history, subtypes, and etiologies. The intent is to contribute to the development of novel research designs and analytic methods for disparate data types that leverage existing data sources.

It is now easier to diagnose neurological disorders because of the neuroscience databases being Open Source through projects like OPTICS.

Bridging the gap between AI and Neuroscience

Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience associate very closely with each other as the research based on any one of them is inspired by the other. So a continuous effort is very essential in bringing them together.

This extensive TEDx talk highlights many important points on both of them. It also mentions the significance of Open Source Neuroscience initiatives like the Human Brain Project and Numenta. Some other great initiatives are NeuralEnsemble and CON.

If you are a software developer and want to get involved and contribute to Neuroscience, here is an excellent resource to get started. You can also check this paper on the same.

Summary

So to recollect the discussion in brief, we introduced Neuroscience to you with an Open Source perspective with some of its interesting branches. We explored two important concepts, one being focused on Neuroengineering to address Medical and Cybernetic enhancements and the other being driven via the Open Source Pharma approach towards Neuropharma, to design or develop better psychiatric drugs. Finally, we also stressed on how AI and Neuroscience can be so correlated with each other.

Though we can go on and on with this vast topic of Neuroscience, we hope that we were able to cover the essentials and deliver the basic idea behind Open Source Neuroscience with its Medical benefits.

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