Brussels, 11 Aug 2005
Seven countries are to launch an international neuroinformatics coordinating facility (INCF) under the umbrella of the Global Science Forum of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Speaking to CORDIS News, interim chair of the INCF governing board Sten Grillner from Sweden's Karolinska Institute, highlighted the contribution that databases have made to bioinformatics. 'It [the INCF] should facilitate research in neuroinformatics as it has done in bioinformatics,' he said.
Neuroinformatics has emerged fairly recently following advances in information technology that have enabled scientists to develop increasingly sophisticated methods for measuring and analysing the brain's functions.
Seven countries are involved in the founding of the INCF, but more, including Japan, are expected to join. The current partners are: the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the US. Each country will pay an annual contribution, calculated according to its investment in research and development (R&D). The contribution for Sweden will be around 120,000 euro, but will be much higher for a country such as the US. A minimum of 750,000 euro in budgetary commitments was required in order for the project to get off the ground. This has now been secured.
The partners are not starting from scratch. Various databases already exist within each of the participating countries, and the INCF will coordinate the pulling together of the information contained therein.
'What we need to do is to have individual databases for sub-fields that are federated,' said Professor Grillner. This will allow scientists to move between different levels of analysis, for example the systems level and the cognitive level, which usually takes time, he explained. A better understanding of the human brain could potentially lead to breakthroughs in the prevention and cure of nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The results could also be used to develop new treatments for depression and schizophrenia. Some 35 per cent of Europe's healthcare budget is spent on treating diseases such as these, according to Professor Grillner, and many of these conditions are chronic.
In addition to promoting the joint management of neuroscience data and databases, INCF is intended to create new, internationally agreed analytical and modelling tools, to develop mathematical and computational models of brain function, and to promote the development of standards, guidelines, ontologies and software tools to facilitate interoperability across multiple computing platforms.
The first step for the partners is to select a host country for the facility's secretariat. The bidding process is underway and the selected location will be announced on 28 November. Professor Grillner hopes that the secretariat will then be established by February or March 2006, enabling the real work to get underway by the summer of the same year.
The European Commission has been extremely supportive of the initiative, and has taken an active part in the planning meetings for the INCF with a view to becoming a full member, said Professor Grillner. For practical reasons, full membership was not, however, possible.