Researchers have discovered a new enzyme, known as BACE2 destroys beta-amyloid, a toxic protein fragment that affects the brains of patients who have the disease. Reuters

Scientists are trying to create a simulated human brain using the world's most powerful computer.

An international team of researchers led by Professor Henry Markram, Head of the neural microcircuitry laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne based in Switzerland, will collect all data about the human brain and will replicate them on a screen, right down to the level of individual cells and molecules, thus creating a simulation of the brain.

The simulation will provide new insights into the basic causes of neurological diseases such as autism, depression, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. The scientists believe that it will give new ways of testing drugs and understanding the way they work. It will allow the scientists to design prosthetic devices to help people with disabilities.

"The complexity of the brain, with its billions of interconnected neurons, makes it hard for neuroscientists to truly understand how it works. Simulating it will make it much easier - allowing them to manipulate and measure any aspect of the brain," Daily Mail quoted Professor Henry Markram, head of the neural microcircuitry laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, as saying.

Markram said that they will create this virtual "brain" in a giant new supercomputer at Julich, a computing campus near Dusseldorf in Germany. He claims that the machine would generate three-dimensional moving images of the brain on large screens built around a futuristic cockpit.

Scientists using the machine could virtually fly through the brain and zoom in to see the structure of individual neurons or zoom out to watch how the flow of information happens between brain regions.

The design of this virtual brain will be partly based on the study performed on the mammalian brains' information processing units, the cortical column, for the past 15 years by Markram's team. "The human brain is far larger with around a million cortical columns," the Sunday Times quoted Markram as saying.

"A computer capable of simulating it would have to carry out a billion calculations a second -- and that would consume the output of an entire nuclear power station using current technology. It means we need an entirely new approach to computing," he added.

To find a way to power the supercomputer will be one of the major challenges for the scientists.

The project is expected to get completed within 12 years. The project has been funded by European Union and has been shortlisted for a 1 billion euro EU grant, which will be decided next month.