EU calls for more and better co-ordinated brain research at European level

September 19, 2003

Brussels, 18 September 2003

Some 250 leading brain specialists are gathering in Brussels today to discuss the creation of a European Brain Research Area. European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin opened the conference on "Brain Research in Europe: Structuring European Neuroscience", which was organised together with Members of the European Parliament Giuseppe Nistico and John Bowis. Representatives from the scientific community, including academia and industry, public administrations, research funding bodies, patients' organisations, European institutions and the media are exchanging views on priorities and modalities for a stronger and more coherent effort for brain research in Europe. The European Commission announced that it is negotiating new projects for brain research to be launched in 2004 for a total of approximately €45 million. Brain research and neurosciences are explicit research topics in the EU's 6 th Framework Programme, the EU's financial instrument for creating a European research area. A press conference will be held today at 13h00 at the Centre A. Borschette, romm 0/B with Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.

"In this field like in many other fields of research, Europe is faced with a costly paradox", said Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "Europe has world-class brain researchers who interact on an individual basis across Europe. Yet, those that fund brain research hardly interact, let alone co-ordinate investments at a European level. The brain and neurosciences are a field where Europe can do much more by working better together. The brain is at the origin of human intelligence and creativity. At the same time, brain disorders are the cause of suffering and pain for many patients. Is it not surprising how little we know about the brain and how little awareness there is among the public of the health benefits and economic development that brain research can bring?"

Brain research develops basic knowledge in areas such as molecular and cellular neuroscience, developmental neurobiology, neurogenetics, sensory physiology, ethology and cognitive neuroscience. It also focuses on pre-clinical and clinical research into neurological and psychiatric disorders and diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, depression and schizophrenia. Degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's affect thousands of Europeans and are difficult to cure. Mental disorders inflict pain, disrupt lives and place a heavy burden on European society.

Europe needs fundamental neuroscience research

The top priority in this sector is to develop new and better means of diagnosis and therapy of neurological and psychiatric disorders and diseases, such as Parkinson's, or bipolar disorders. All progress in this field comes from the knowledge provided by fundamental neuroscience research. Furthermore, basic research, as a driving force behind the European effort in neuroscience research, will provide a new insight into mental processes in general.

Brain researchers working together

The burdens and costs of brain disorders, on individuals and society as a whole, are very high and pose a major challenge to European health care systems. Most scientists' national organisations involved in brain research have already agreed to co-operate more closely, pooling resources in bodies such as the "Federation of European Neuroscience Societies" (FENS) or the "European Federation of Neurological Societies" (EFNS). They address some of the weaknesses of European neuroscience research, but fragmentation of investments and under-funding still prevail.

Several of these organisations recently agreed to form the European Brain Council (EBC), which should provide a more comprehensive umbrella organisation for all societies or bodies concerned with brain research in Europe. This would include various patient associations, such as the European Federation of Neurological Associations (EFNA).

Creating a European Brain Research Area

The conference, organised at the initiative of the European Commission, aims to foster the creation of a truly European Research Area (ERA) in the field of brain research. The conference should make recommendations on how to streamline and better co-ordinate brain research funding across Europe. The conference will also discuss how the EU can catalyse such an effort, in particular through the EU's research funding programme (the 6 th Research Framework Programme, FP6, 2003-2006).

FP6 will devote €2.255 billion to health-related research, including neuroscience. The Commission is currently negotiating new integrated projects and networks of excellence, resulting from a first call for proposals, that address depression, neuropathology of ataxias, protein aggregation in neurodegenerative diseases and human brain tissue. Smaller projects are expected to address rare neurological disorders and pain. The mobilisation of the scientific community to FP6's first call for proposals, following a massive input of research ideas last year, demonstrates its consciousness and willingness to create a true European research area in the field. Only in this way will Europe be able to overcome the fragmentation in neuroscience research in Europe and eventually forge ahead of the US and Japan.

In the longer term, other new promising technologies supported by FP6, such as nanotechnologies, could help tackle brain diseases. FP6 also provides innovative schemes such as the ERA-NET, which supports the co-ordination of national and regional research programmes.

The conference

The conference offers a unique opportunity,

  • to provide a forum to the various stakeholders (including representatives from the scientific community, public administration, foundations, patients' organisations, industry, European institutions, decision-makers and the media) to discuss the organisation of European brain research in respect of basic and clinical/applied research at national and European levels;

  • to report on major trends and initiatives in European brain research and future expectations;

  • to explore opportunities for the main stakeholders in brain research to work more closely together and to agree on the way forward;

  • to raise public awareness on brain/neuroscience research.
The conference takes place at the Centre A. Borschette, room 0/A, rue Froissart 36 in Brussels starting on 18 September 2003, at 9:00.

For further information on the conference (including the full programme) please visit:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/conferences/2003/brain/index_en.html .

For the thematic priority on life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) see also:

http://www.cordis.lu/lifescihealth/home.html .

You may also wish to consult the web pages of the European Brain Council (EBS):

http://www.europeanbraincouncil.com/news.htm .

DN: IP/03/1268 Date: 18/09/2003

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