Brussels, 01 Oct 2003
European scientists will lead an international team that has set its mind on uncovering the intricate mysteries of the human brain in order to advance our knowledge and shed light on degenerative diseases.
The brain, with its billions of neuron connections, remains one of the most impenetrable and puzzling frontiers in medicine. Led by German scientists, the Human Brain Proteome Project (HBPP) was recently set up to pool international efforts to raise the veil on the workings of the brain's individual parts – down to the last gene, molecule and protein.
Established under the auspices of the Human Proteome Organisation (HUPO), HBPP will analyse the brain proteome – the protein complement expressed by a genome – to try to shed light on issues of health, ageing and neurodiseases.
"HBPP offers a great chance to intensify, coordinate and encourage international brain proteome activities and to… benefit from the knowledge, technologies and data these projects provide," the project's website explains.
By putting their brains together, the international scientists hope to reap great rewards in terms of human knowledge and public health. "The brain is of paramount interest to medical research and the pharmaceutical industry because of the widespread societal impact of the more common neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, [and] multiple sclerosis," the website continues.
Separating the men from the mice
More than 45 scientists from Europe, the United States and Asia got together for the first HBPP workshop in Düsseldorf, Germany on 5-6 September. The assembled scientists – who hailed from such places as Austria, China, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and the United Kingdom – agreed on the scientific and organisational divisions for the project.
They also hammered out basic strategies for their work: five committees were formed to focus on specific topics. In addition, companies were given the opportunity to present their points of view.
The first phase of the project will move along two tracks. The first will be a quantitative proteome analysis of normal mice brains, while the second will be a similar study of human brain tissue from biopsies and autopsies. The research – which will last 12 months – begins in January 2004.
In a related development, some 250 leading brain specialists gathered recently in Brussels to discuss the creation of a European Brain Research Area at a conference entitled 'Brain Research in Europe: Structuring European Neuroscience'.
"Europe is faced with a costly paradox," observed Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin at the conference. "[It] has world-class brain researchers who interact on an individual basis across Europe. Yet, those [who] fund brain research hardly interact, let alone co-ordinate investments at a European level."
Source: EU and external sources