The human olfactory system plays a key role not only in smell, but also in our most basic social interactions, emotions and recollections.
The Azrieli Foundation has supported the extraordinary work of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science for many years. With a shared vision to enable scientific research for the benefit of humanity, the Foundation has made significant donations to ground-breaking neurodevelopmental research, systems biology and generous fellowships.
Most recently, the Azrieli Foundation established the Azrieli National Institute for Human Brain Imaging and Research at Weizmann. With a gift of $15 million, Weizmann was able to purchase a 7 Tesla (7T) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine and develop a country-wide research hub that provides unique opportunities and clinical collaborations focused on the human brain. At 7T, the MRI has the highest power currently in use with human subjects and is the only such machine in the Middle East.
One of the key challenges to fully understanding how the human brain works is its exceptionally complex connectivity. To probe this connectivity, scientists need to measure activity from the entire brain simultaneously, and functional brain imaging is the best, and nearly only, way to do this.
An MRI can provide scientists and clinicians with information that is impossible to get any other way. It can record the brain both when at rest and when actively performing a sensory or cognitive task. Most brain imaging is done with MRIs with lower field strength (1.5T or 3T). The higher the magnetic field, the better the resolution of images, and the faster they can be obtained, which means that more information can be extracted from images.
Here is a glimpse into some of the research done at the Azrieli National Institute for Human Brain Imaging using the 7T MRI.
The Director of the Azrieli National Institute for Human Brain Imaging and Research is Prof. Noam Sobel. His fascinating area of research explores how the brain processes smell, which is called olfaction.
The human olfactory system plays a key role not only in smell, but also in our most basic social interactions, emotions and recollections. Faulty functioning of this system may indicate early signs of neurological and cognitive deteriorations, for example, in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Prof. Sobel has pioneered the development and construction of tools that emit and measure smells, and led the way in the use of brain imaging to measure the human brain’s response to odors. His earlier efforts include explaining how the brain uses two nostrils to form an olfactory image and developing technology that enables severely disabled people to communicate and steer a wheelchair by simply sniffing. More recent examples include using olfactory responses to predict who will recover from coma and brain injury, and a numerical way to represent odors – “a measure of smell” – that may one day make it possible to transmit smell over the internet. The Sobel group has also been very involved in the response to COVID-19, developing an online olfactory self-test known as SmellTracker that allows for rapid self-diagnosis at home.
One of the key challenges to fully understanding how the human brain works is its exceptionally complex connectivity.