Philippe Busquin: Organising brain research in Europe - Opening ceremony of the "European Brain Council" (EBC) - Key Note Lecture "The European Research Area" Brussels, 10 June 2003

June 11, 2003

Brussels, 10 June 2003

Members of Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a true pleasure for a European Commissioner for Research to address this distinguished audience.

I would like to thank the organisers, in particular the President of the EBC, Professor Jes Olesen, for having invited me today.

These are very exciting times for research in Europe.

And they are certainly exciting for brain research and neuro-sciences.

The opportunities for advancing in brain research are great.

You have heard this morning about expectations that patients have from brain research and some perspectives on where science is going.

But we will only succeed in realising the opportunities if we better organise our research effort.

I very much welcome the creation of the European Brain Council.

Europe has a strong tradition in brain research with scientists from different countries working together.

We have witnessed this in the past Framework Programmes for Research.

Let me cite a few examples of successful projects that the Commission has already funded.

One project generated a treatment for multiple sclerosis on animal models. This treatment now has to be tested in humans.

Another project set up a database for brain imaging data, allowing for the collection and standardisation of brain imaging data from labs all over Europe. The project is now linking the brain images to genetic data as well as brain anatomical data.

A third project has made substantial progress in better understanding the process of learning and memory in rats.

The Framework Programmes have contributed to advancing neuroscience and creating networks of researchers from different countries.

But now, the EU has set some ambitious goals for itself.

It has said it wants to become by 2010 the most dynamic knowledge-based society in the world.

Creating a true European Research Area is an essential component of that ambition, which is firmly anchored in the EU's political agenda.

The challenge is to overcome the historical fragmentation of our research efforts in Europe.

The European Research Area is slowly becoming a reality, but it will only really exist:

When knowledge, technologies and researchers freely circulate in an internal market of knowledge;

  • When researchers and their institutions with complementary skills from across Europe form durable networks of excellence;

  • When these networks compete not only at national level but also, and increasingly, at European level;

  • When not only researchers work together, but especially those that fund research, in the first place public authorities.
The Sixth Framework Programme should reinforce that dynamic.

We have concentrated our resources on a limited number of priorities and we have developed new funding instruments that provide a critical mass of resources to put European research teams at the cutting edge of science.

Better understanding the brain and fighting neuro-degenerative diseases is part of the FP6 priorities.

I believe the neuro-scientific community realises the importance of unifying efforts. I was encouraged by their massive response to FP6.

Last year, we received more than 300 expressions of interest covering nearly all fields, from brain imaging to neuro-informatics, from addiction to neuro-degenerative diseases to language processing.

As a result of these expressions of interest, we hope to see solid project and networks emerge from the first call for proposals on such topics as affective disorders, eating disorders, protein aggregation in neuro-degenerative diseases, brain development and brain tissue banking.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I expect the EBC to substantially contribute to building a European Research Area in the field of brain research.

As Professor Olesen said, the EBC can bring something to us, and the European Union can bring something to the brain research community.

There are four areas where I see opportunities for the EBC to create win-win situations.

First of all, in helping to address European fragmentation by putting together scientists, clinicians, industry and patient representatives from across Europe.

The co-operation between basic and clinical researchers should be our constant aim. Brain research is particularly challenging.

To advance this science and meet the hopes of so many patients, it will be important to quickly go from theory to application, from bench to bedside.

It is this "translational approach" that is at the heart of the FP6 priority for combating major diseases with a budget of more than 1 billion euro.

But brain research is also challenging in that it requires a very broad inter-disciplinary expertise. It requires co-operation between, for example, electrophysiology, neuro-anatomy, animal and human behaviour analysis, cell biology, clinics and neuro-informatics.

The Commission expects that EBC will catalyse that process.

The second opportunity for creating a win-win situation is to attract young people to research.

Understanding the brain and fighting neuro-degenerative diseases are challenges that can appeal to the imagination if chances are offered, if training is provided and if resources are available.

That leads me to my third win-win area, namely to attract more investments in research.

In Europe, we spend too little on research.

In April, the Commission presented an action plan for reaching by 2010 the target of 3% of GDP for research spending.

We need to spend more on research and in a more coherent fashion. This is also true for brain research.

Not only for the fight against diseases, but also for studying the basic function of the brain.

Given that around 30% of the human genes and proteins sequenced are brain-specific and that the brain is the central organ of human complex thinking and behaviour, it is surprising that not more funds are devoted to this area of science.

A fourth win-win area is that of bringing science and society closer together, by promoting a scientific culture and by communicating more and better with citizens on science.

In this regard, I particularly welcome the EBC initiative to include patient organisations, represented today by Mrs. Mary Baker.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For all these reasons, I believe the EBC can become a major player in brain research policy in Europe.

Together, we have to reinforce our efforts for having the whole field of brain research in Europe better structured and organised.

That is why I have called for a conference on 18 September, gathering the leading actors in the field.

The aim of the conference will be to discuss how we can create a true European Brain Research Area.

The creation of the European Brain Council is an important and welcome step in that direction.

I would like to congratulate EBC for their initiative and wish it best of luck in its future action.

Thank you for your attention.

DN: SPEECH/03/283 Date: 10/06/2003

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