Researchers say building a computer simulation could improve understanding and treatments of brain diseases like Alzheimer's.

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Human Brain Project will use supercomputers to mimic tangle of neurons and synapses that power our thoughts

Scientists say the simulator could offer new insight into the treatment of brain disease like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's

"Brain in a box" is unlikely to transform into sci-fi-style computer bent on world domination, scientists say

CNN  — 

There’s no escaping the fact that the Human Brain Project, with its billion-dollar plan to recreate the human mind inside a supercomputer, sounds like a science fiction nightmare.

But those involved hope their ambitious goal of simulating the tangle of neurons and synapses that power our thought processes could offer solutions to tackling conditions such as depression, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

The Human Brain venture is the next step in a long-running program that has already succeeded in using computers to create a virtual replica of part of a rat’s neocortex – a section of the brain believed to control higher functions such as conscious thought, movement and reasoning.

Scientists at its forerunner, the Switzerland-based Blue Brain Project, have been working since 2005 to feed a computer with vast quantities of data and algorithms produced from studying tiny slivers of rodent gray matter.

Last month they announced a significant advancement when they were able to use their simulator to accurately predict the location of synapses in the neocortex, effectively mapping out the complex electrical brain circuitry through which thoughts travel.