On Tuesday, November 7th, 2023 the CSA BrainHealth held its kick-off meeting in Bonn, Germany, and online

More than 90 attendees witnessed the formal opening and start of the CSA BrainHealth. The program comprised presentations by EU Commission representatives and partners of the CSA project. Representatives of European and international countries, the European Brain Council (EBC), the digital infrastructure EBRAINS, and the patient organization European Federation of Neurological Associations (EFNA) entered into a lively discussion with the broad audience about the scope of the project, the meaning of the term ‘brain health’ and the role of social sciences therein.

The coordinator, Dr. Marlies Dorlöchter (DLR, Germany) summarized: “In preparation of the envisaged European Partnership on Brain Health, the CSA BrainHealth is ready to start the complex process, and I am glad to rely on such strong partners. Brain health as a common and global challenge requires collaborative and integrative efforts.”

Why a CSA BrainHealth?

Brain health is the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioural and motor domains, allowing a person to realize their full potential over the life course, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.

Diseases of the brain and nervous system represent a major societal and economic burden in Europe, causing more than 800 billion euros per year. More than 540 million Europeans suffered from neurological diseases in 2017. The associated mortality was near 2 million cases with stroke as the leading cause (Eur. J. Neurol., 19:155, 2012; Lancet Public Health, 5:e551, 2020).
During the pandemic situation, mental disorders became a prominent brain health issue, when the infections as well as the means to fight them caused severe socio-psychological and psychiatric disturbances. Symptoms of depression among young people more than doubled in several European countries, as evidenced by the OECD-EC “Health at a Glance: Europe 2022” report (Health at a Glance: Europe 2022 – OECD). Mental health issues are also rising in times of political conflicts and climate change, migration and forced displacement.
Notwithstanding, neurodegenerative diseases remain a major challenge in European countries. Moreover, with technological developments in neurological and psychiatric treatments questions arise about risk and benefit related to their impact on brain function. Ethical concerns and debates are becoming increasingly prominent, such as e.g. questions of neuro-rights, deep brain stimulation in mental and neurological disease, or brain-computer-interfaces.

Dickson, Dorlöchter and Amouyel at CSA BrainHealth kick-off
Dickson, Dorlöchter and Amouyel at CSA BrainHealth kick-off © CSA BrainHealth

The CSA BrainHealth is the result of a common vision of a European Partnership on Brain Health and its goal towards promoting brain health in populations in Europe and worldwide as well as towards restoring the health of citizens living with both mental or neurological brain diseases. This vision has been supported by the main players in the field for many years – JPND, NEURON, EBC and EBRAINS – sharing a common objective towards “Designing a European brain health landscape”.

The CSA BrainHealth will structure the relevant dimensions of this research area and will enhance concerted actions in the field of research into the brain and nervous system, in health and disease. This will lay the strategic and organisational groundwork for a future European Partnership on Brain Health and take all necessary steps to design and prepare the Partnership, ensuring a smooth transition at the end of the CSA runtime.

The CSA BrainHealth will capitalise on the unique opportunity of already existing networking efforts in this field through the four main players, will exploit pre-existing successful collaboration, and build on the achievements of the EU-funded CSA European Brain Research Area (EBRA). The consortium of the proposed CSA BrainHealth comprises representatives of ministries and funding bodies (including the funding research networks JPND, NEURON and FLAGERA of the brain research community (clinicians and basic neuroscientists), research associations and professional societies, a research infrastructure, and of patient organisations.

Overall objectives of BrainHealth:

To structure the landscape in Europe for research into the brain and its health and disorders by creating a platform for involvement of all pertinent stakeholders (ministries and funding agencies, researchers, persons with brain disorders, health care providers and payers, regulators, industry) and their convergence around an ambitious Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA).
Extending the collaborative efforts into a global dimension will increase the impact. The CSA BrainHealth will take the necessary steps to design a Partnership on Brain Health that will serve as an umbrella for the stakeholder initiatives in this field and implement transnational funding programmes.
The idea of creating a European Partnership has been brought forward by the EU Member States and is planned for the second Strategic Plan of the EU framework programme Horizon Europe.

Dorlöchter at CSA BrainHealth kick-off
Dorlöchter at CSA BrainHealth kick-off © CSA BrainHealth

Specific objectives of the CSA:

  • Develop the collaboration framework and governance structure for a future European Partnership on Brain Health to enable its role as an umbrella for relevant organisations and initiatives.
  • Create a common understanding of the needs, gaps and hurdles and impactful collaborative actions in the brain health area, identify current and future priorities and opportunities.
  • Advocate for the importance of brain health and disseminate the impact of research and how it can contribute to maintaining brain health and overcoming its diseases.
  • Advance collaboration strategies with pertinent stakeholders.

CSA Makeup:

The Network of European Funding of Neuroscience Research (NEURON) along with the EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND), EBRAINS, the European Brain Council (EBC) and representatives of ministries and funding bodies of the brain research community make up the consortium of the proposed CSA BrainHealth.

Building upon the CSA European Brain Research Area (EBRA, 2018-2022) that fostered collaboration of stakeholder organisations in the field of brain research in Europe: neurological and psychiatric research associations including patient organisations represented by the EBC, the Human Brain Project (HBP) and its Research Infrastructure (HBP, EBRAINS), the funders networks JPND and NEURON, the CSA BrainHealth will leverage on the knowledge gained by the project, its achievements and progress.

While the successful collaboration established in EBRA between the research community, other stakeholders and representatives of JPND and NEURON will continue, the proposed CSA BrainHealth will also build on direct participation of governmental institutions and funding bodies, who are participants in the consortium and will contribute to implementing the CSA BrainHealth work plan.
In addition, a Funders Forum will guarantee an intense exchange of information and views with those representatives of ministries and funding agencies, charities and foundations that are not involved in the CSA BrainHealth as participants but will potentially participate in the EP Brain Health.
The broad inclusion and strong influence of Member and Associated as well as Third Countries is indispensable in view of staying in line with regional and national strategies, not least considering the political and financial commitments required for an EP Brain Health.

The Three Pillars of CSA BrianHealth:

Development of a collaboration framework

The EU framework programme Horizon Europe supports European Partnerships to deliver on global challenges through concerted research and innovation efforts with the Member States, the private sector, foundations and other stakeholders. A potential future Brain Health Partnership will be a policy approach with impact on the need for preclinical, and clinical research as well as health care in the area of brain health. It will foster close synergies among national and regional programmes, provide transnational funding, and bring together a broad range of stakeholders to work towards the common goal of improved brain health, which in turn will have positive socioeconomic impact.

Defining strategic research priorities (SRIA) – the scope and priorities of the CSA will be defined by the SRIA

It is expected that the EP Brain Health will accelerate the cooperation among all relevant stakeholders to maintain and improve brain health. This requires the identification of main assets and barriers of the European brain health community in the context of global developments.
The central piece of the proposed CSA BrainHealth will be the SRIA defining the scope and priorities of the future EP Brain Health. A number of research agendas, roadmaps and position papers on brain health have been published by various initiatives and organisations (e.g. JPND, NEURON, EBRA, HBP, EBRAINS, IHI, Brain Initiative, WHO, and others).
There will be a thorough analysis of the existing documents and the identification and description of their convergences and gaps and maximising the alignment with national roadmaps. From this approach, an inclusive SRIA will be developed.

Engagement of global initiatives and research infrastructures

To structure the brain health area, broad participation of European countries, research initiatives, networks and infrastructures is necessary. Beyond this, a global approach towards international organisations and networks (e.g. OECD, IBRO, WHO, NIH BRAIN Initiative) is needed to combine forces for the huge task to preserve and improve brain health. Within WP4 and WP6 links will be established to potential global partners of the future Partnership and plans developed to reach out to and seek input from pertinent key international organisations, their views and opinions. Ways will be explored how to include them in the future European Partnership in terms of joint activities at the highest possible levels of commitment.

For more information about the CSA BrainHealth, visit: brainhealth-partnership.eu