Big Data Hackathon for the Human Brain

The human brain can be foundation of a whole lot of neuroscience apps, as it turns out.

Hackathons are not exactly uncommon things, whether the programmers are assembled to improve a company product or simply to tackle a particular challenge. Few of them, however, offer the chance to hack the human brain.

That was the reason behind the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science’s week-long hackathon: give 30 participants from various universities and institutes, along with a smattering of technology companies, the chance to develop data-analysis tools based on the latest version of the Institute’s Allen Brain Atlas API, which was released earlier in June.

“This hackathon stems from our longstanding, open approach to science and our belief that putting our data-rich resources in the hands of the many and varied experts around the globe is the most effective way to drive progress in brain research,” Chinh Dang, the Allen Institute for Brain Science’s chief technology officer, wrote in a June 25 statement.

The hackathon, he added, was effectively a demonstration of the Institute’s API, which allows developers to create applications and tools from neuroscience data: “The hackathon projects delivered innovative ways of handling data, offering direct contributions to the informatics and programming communities as well as to neuroscience.”

The Institute holds petabytes of data related to the brain, including comprehensive maps of the genes in human and mouse brains. The API allows access to data broken down in a number of subcategories, including samples (diseases, ages), type of data (MRI, gene expression, etc.), and species. In the context of the hackathon, that led to projects and applications such as one that leveraged a list of genes to discover disease patterns. Another translated genomic data into music—because when it comes to Big Data and neuroscience, you can’t be deadly serious all the time.

Those interested in the Allen Brain Atlas API can visit the Institute’s Website. Source code from the hackathon projects will apparently arrive on the Web in October.

 

Image: tavi/Shutterstock.com

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