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Brain Navigator: 3D Brain Exploration

Brain Navigator is a type of single user virtual environment. Designed as an aide to research more than anything else, it understandably has a wide plethora of uses outside the academic fields.

The navigator can in principle 'load' any mammalian brain, however at time of launch, only the mouse brain and rat brain are available. The reason for this is more due to the sheer amount of information to collate and assemble into a format that can be interrelated, displayed and picked apart in 3D to the researcher's heart's content. These is no attempt being made to shield human brains from such research usage, rather the developers simply started with the least complex, commonly studied brains.

Brain Navigator

The program was developed in collaboration with the Allen Institute for Brain Science and under the editorship of Professor George Paxinos and Charles Watson, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Sydney. The whole point of the navigator, thusly, was to create a 3D, intuative, interactive interface for the Allen Institute's brain maps, along with medical data. It is an attempt to create a bespoke VR for brain study, alleviating the problems inherent in a vast dataset of knowledge by allowing its manipulation in ways not possible outside of VR.

Traditionally, researchers use print atlases to help them identify structures, for example when viewing brain tissue under a microscope. Now, with BrainNavigator, which combines atlas maps in one easy-to-navigate web-based system, researchers can view detailed images of each brain section. Brain images are no longer only shown as flat maps but also as objects with depth. A particular advance is the facility to create virtual sections from the 3D brain model at very high detail and quality to mimic the real situation in the biological tissue in the laboratory.

"Neuroscientists indicated a need for an easy-to-use online system that would allow them to browse, compare and label high-resolution material as well as create virtual sections. And they wanted a way to annotate and share their research with colleagues. These are all features that BrainNavigator offers, so that researchers can work more productively, with deeper insights, and collaborate on new findings", said Johannes Menzel, Publisher of Science Solutions and Content Strategy at Elsevier when speaking at the initial press release. "We have had quadruple the number of people we expected when we launched user testing for the product. Feedback has been tremendously positive."



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