ERA-NET NEURON Symposium: Together for brain research – 27 January 2021

Over 120 participants attended the virtual symposium of the Network of European funding for Neuroscience research (NEURON) organised by Etienne Hirsch (INSERM) and Bernard Poulain (CNRS).

“With our symposium we intend to bring together renowned researchers representing academic organisations, patients and stakeholders to discuss how to work together in tackling brain diseases.”

Etienne Hirsch (INSERM) and Bernard Poulain (CNRS)

Four round table discussions addressed the changes called for in different areas of interest related to brain and neuroscience research.

Marlies Dorlöchter heralded the opening of the new NEURON phase with 27 participating ministries and funding organisations from 23 countries and the European Commission by emphasising the fact ”…that the NEURON network is larger than ever and NEURON’s strategy is to follow a holistic approach to advance brain research”.

The opportunities, necessities and challenges of this approach were in the center of the discussion in the panel on ‘Priorities for brain research in neurology and psychiatry’, including Martin Dichgans (Germany) and Frauke Zipp (Germany) as past and present chairs of NEURON’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), Jean-Antoine Girault (France) representing the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), Thomas Berger (Austria) of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN), and Philip Gorwood (France) of the European Psychiatric Association (EPA).

NEURON’s strategy to decrease the burden of brain disorders for patients and society was endorsed by the discussion on ‘Reinforcing links between lay organisations, basic scientists, and clinicians’. Panelists were Christina Müller (Germany) ERA-NET NEURON, Cristina Tassorelli (Italy) from the University of Pavia, Donna Walsh (Ireland) of the European Federation of Neurological Associations (EFNA), Philippa Lowe (UK) of the Rethink Mental Illness and European Federation of Associations of Families of People with Mental Illness (EUFAMI), and Christina Fasser (Switzerland) as Past President of Retina International. In view of the tasks ahead, the envisaged collaboration of NEURON with EFNA was applauded by all panelists.

The panel discussion on ‘Data sharing, legal and ethical aspects in brain research’ fostered NEURON’s strategy to accelerate translation of research results into clinical practice. Daniel Strech (Germany) of the QUEST center Berlin, Jacques Demotes (France) of the European Clinical Research Infrastructure Network (ECRIN), Wiebke Löbker (Germany) of the STARS project and Thomas Steckler (Belgium) from Janssen Pharmaceutica, spoke on requirements and opportunities for effective translation of preclinical research into clinical practice.

A centralised approach meant to underline Europe’s efforts in brain research was the topic of the discussion featured in the panel on ‘Strengthening and structuring brain research in the EU’. Panelists were Karim Berkouk of the European Commission, Research and Innovation Directorate-General, Marlies Dorlöchter (Germany) from ERA-NET NEURON, Monica di Luca (Italy) of the European Brain Council (EBC), and Philippe Amouyel (France) of the EU Joint Programme on Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND). The merits of having a strategy to create a global brain research area was seen as NEURON’s strength. As Etienne Hirsch and Bernard Poulain pointed out: ”The collective writing of our new and updated Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) highlights priorities such as sharing of resources, which has been identified as an essential pillar in developing the knowledge and technologies necessary for tackling down brain-related diseases.”

Finally, the outcomes of the panel discussions were summarised by Elena Becker-Barroso, Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Lancet Neurology` journal. In her most recent editorial , ‘Neurological burden and European invest: a disconnect’, she had pointed out some serious issues and gaps with regard to reduced investments in the field of brain-related disorders. Nonetheless, she addressed NEURON’s successes and yet challenges ahead: for the panel ‘Reinforcing links between lay organisations, basic scientists and clinicians’ the successes are the considerations for patients’ needs that lead to more impactful research, and the gain of credibility of science in society. Patients and care givers are willing to help because there is a “…demand like never before”. Challenges are guidance, training and education of both sides, patients and researchers, and the integration of patient opinions into the translational research decision-making.

For the panel ‘Data sharing, legal and ethical aspects in brain research’ she spoke on the “…lack of reproducibility and research waste (particularly in pre-clinical research) indicative of problems with our academic culture of incentives and rewards”. Challenges and measures are: “…data sharing and open data for which methods and infrastructure are needed, training and know-how particularly on regulatory practices, and that transparency – as in clinical trials with registration and reporting – is key”.

For the panel ‘Strengthening and structuring brain research in the EU’ her summary opted for the “…European Brain Council as the united voice in advocating for brain research, and strong and stable research networks that further focus on engagement with social scientists and lay organisations”. She saw “…JPND as a (sister) synergistic role model and advised for common priorities between both networks”.

Marlies Dorlöchter closed the symposium by expressing her thanks to all engaged participants and emphasised the inspiring value of the discussion in all panels. NEURON will build on it, continue and improve current programs, invest into research projects, intensify cooperation with stakeholders and pertinent organisations, intensify engagement of patients, implement new activities, and overall – pursue new ideas!