Hack Your Mind: Allen Brain Atlas API Launched

Curtis Chen
Jun. 29 2012, 01:27PM EDT

The Allen Institute for Brain Science, a non-profit medical research organization in Seattle, Washington, worked for several years to build a map of gene expression in the human brain. It released a Mouse Brain Atlas in 2007, then used similar techniques to complete its Human Brain Atlas in 2010. Last week, at its first hackathon, the Institute launched an API for the Human Brain Atlas, allowing researchers all over the world direct access to that information.

Of course, the Allen Institute has always made its data freely available, but the API offers new ways to use Brain Atlas information without having to download petabyte-sized archive files. Resources include a RESTful model access, an image download service, a 3-D expression summary download service, and more. As detailed in a recent press release:

Using the Allen Brain Atlas API, developers can create entirely new software applications, mashups and novel data mining tools for making sense of the large and ever-growing volumes of neuroscience data. The API offers data access across species, ages, disease and control states, providing a powerful means to compare many types of data (e.g., histology images, gene expression, and MRI) among many types of samples (e.g., ages, species or diseases).

During last week's hackathon, participants created "[p]rojects rang[ing] from practical applications, such as using a list of glioblastoma-related genes to discover biological patterns that could shed new light on the biology of the disease and developing strategies to use gene expression data with functional brain scanning technologies, to purely creative applications, including translating genomic data into music."

The Institute plans to make source code from all the hackathon projects available as part of its next public data release in October.

You can get extensive Allen Brain Atlas API documentation online, and also see some code examples.

(Hat tip: Medgadget)

Curtis Chen Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley; now a science fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen his "Cat Feeding Robot" Ignite presentation. Curtis is not an aardvark.

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