Project HM

Patient HM became famous for having a dense surgically-induced amnesia and taking part in numerous neuropsychology studies that told us a great deal about the structure of memory. He died last year but left his brain to science and Project HM has been set up to co-ordinate the scientific analysis of his brain.

According to a post on the Project blog, the process of dissecting and digitally recording the structure of HM’s brain will begin on Wednesday 2nd December and apparently you’ll be able to watch it live via video streamed from the site.

The best write up of the Project is over at Nature News who have unfortunately jailed their article behind a pay wall. However, here’s the punch line:

On 2 December, exactly one year after Molaison’s death, [Neuroanatomist Jacopo] Annese, of the University of California, San Diego, will begin dividing the brain into roughly 2,400 slices, each thinner than a human hair, and digitizing them. Annese hopes that Molaison’s brain will become the first of many in a digital human-brain library at the university.

Annese is one of the few people with the sophisticated equipment needed to slice whole human brains, which is how he came by Molaison’s brain. Most labs cut human brains into blocks before slicing them ‚Äî the fate that befell Albert Einstein’s brain.

Annese will mount and stain about every 30th slice for cell nuclei and projections, which will allow him to map the cellular architecture in three dimensions. The remaining slices will be available to the neuroscience community, with researchers able to view the particular slice they want to study before requesting it.

Link to Project HM website.

One thought on “Project HM”

  1. I cried when I read about Project HM. I have been dealing with the inability to retain new memory, with certain exceptions for 20 years. Jobs, friends, family relationships have never been the same since my accident. Because people I meet or have known see that I remember certain events, they don’t believe me when I say “I don’t remember”. I try to explain that I was not given a “manual” after my NDE which left 3 minutes of dead brain cells in my left temporal lobe, on what I can, will, or do remember. I am learning what I am capable of retaining as memory on a day to day basis. What I can or can’t remember I can not determine by myself because I would have to KNOW what I am or am not remembering by someone who knows everything I have done. I have lived 20 years with people not believing me, questioning my secondary reason for ‘pretending not to remember’. This includes my neurologist. He performed a memory test that lasted two hours. I tried to explain that I CAN remember two hours of time, but beyond 2 weeks, things disappear. He declared that my memory was fine and I had an ulterior motive for ‘pretending not to know’ . The article shows that my brain, all brains, store memory in different areas. My memory prior to the accident remains intact like it happened yesterday and prior. I am able to form new memories for numbers, events that I repeat over and over either by speaking out loud or writing about them and traumatic events (although this could be because I repeat the event to others). I lost my sense of smell in childhood after another head injury. Over the past decade, it returned slowly. I could smell for a day or two, gone again, off an on, but now, 20 years after my accident, I can smell everyday. Again, people don’t believe me. I don’t have a ‘memory bank’ of what these smells are, but I am slowly learning to identify them. I would love to participate in any studies on memory and am willing to donate my brain to your project. I have been frustrated with the lack of interest by any neurologist to learn about memory and the brain from my true life experiences. Any way I can help, let me know.

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