Achievements and challenges of the Decade of the Brain

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					                                 EuroBrain Vol. 2, No. 1 – March 2000




                             Achievements and challenges
                             of the Decade of the Brain
                                Ten years is a very short time in the           But what has really been achieved dur-
                                history of science, but the last decade         ing this “Decade of the Brain” and what
                                has been rather special for neuro-              does the future hold?
      1 to 4 ACHIEVEMENTS       science. This discipline – the study
           AND CHALLENGES       of the nervous system – has emerged             President George Bush and the US
OF THE DECADE OF THE BRAIN      as an independent field of science,             Congress, with the encouragement of
                                tackling issues of enormous intellectual        leading American neuroscientists,
5 & 6 BRAINS IN BRIGHTON        and practical significance. It has been         designated the nineties as the Decade
                                said that knowledge in this area has            of the Brain, and many other nations,
                                doubled in the last ten years. The              including the European Community,
                                Society for Neuroscience in USA                 adopted the Decade. It recognized
                                boasts an attendance of more than               the scientific excitement surrounding
                                25,000 delegates at its annual meet-            research on brain and also its signifi-
                                ings. The new Federation of European            cance for the health of the public, given
                                Neuroscience Societies now provides             the massive toll of diseases and disor-
                                a high-profile Forum for Europe's neuro-        ders of the nervous system. A couple of
                                scientists. And the International Brain         years ago, the total cost of such medi-
                                Research Organization has more                  cal problems in the United States was
                                than 50,000 members representing                estimated at $ 600 billion or more.
                                111 countries.                                  Because so many neurological and




                                  CONTACT
                                  Béatrice Roth, PhD               Elaine Snell
                                  Institut de Physiologie          Vicarage House
                                  7, rue du Bugnon                 58-60 Kensington Church Street
                                  CH–1005 Lausanne                 London W8 4DB, UK
                         The      Switzerland                      Tel. : +44 207 937 7713
                    European      Tel./Fax: +41 21 692 55 25       Fax: +44 207 937 4314
               Dana Alliance      dana1997@iphysiolsg1.unil.ch     edab@which.net
                for the Brain




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                           EuroBrain Vol. 2, No. 1 – March 2000




                           Achievements and
                               of the Decade
                          psychiatric disorders, such as stroke,       28 eminent neurologists, psychiatrists
                          Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s,         and basic scientists to discuss the
                          are associated with old age, that bur-       problem. Fortunately, they also invited
                          den is bound to grow.                        David Mahoney, Chairman of the Board
                                                                       of the Charles A. Dana Foundation,
                          However, the Congressional Decla-            based in New York, a non-profit private
                          ration did not immediately translate         foundation with grant programmes in
                          into the additional funds for research       health and education. Mr Mahoney,
                          that had been anticipated by American        with his business acumen and his
                          neuroscientists. In November 1992,           sense of public opinion, persuaded the
                          James Watson, Nobel Laureate for dis-        scientists to prepare a statement of
                          covering the structure of DNA, and           achievable goals for the Decade, and
                          W. Maxwell Cowan, Chief Scientific           to sign up to the mission of raising pub-
                          Officer of the Howard-Hughes Medical         lic awareness of the importance of
                          Institute, convened a meeting of             neuroscience. That was the birth of the
                                                                       Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives,
                                                                       supported by the Dana Foundation,
                                                                       which now has a membership of two
100,000 BILLION NEURONS, EACH RECEIVING                                hundred leading basic and clinical
                                                                       neuroscientists. In January 1997,
INPUT FROM AN AVERAGE OF ABOUT                                         with the encouragement of the Dana
                                                                       Foundation and their American col-
10,000 OTHERS, THAT’S 1015 CONNECTIONS – AN                            leagues, sixty European neuroscien-
                                                                       tists established the European Dana
INFORMATION-PROCESSING NETWORK OF STAGGERING                           Alliance for the Brain (EDAB), also
                                                                       devoted to informing the public about
COMPLEXITY, RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR PERCEPTIONS,                           the necessity of brain research.

THOUGHTS, EMOTIONS, INTELLIGENCE, LANGUAGE                             At the end of this Decade, neuroscien-
                                                                       tists can surely be proud of what has
AND CREATIVITY.                                                        been achieved, but realistic about the
                                                                       magnitude of the problem that remains.
                                                                       The human brain is the most complex
                                                                       known object in the universe, with
                                                                       its 100,000 billion neurons, each re-
                                                                       ceiving input from an average of about
                                                                       10,000 others. That’s 1015 connections –
                                                                       an information-processing network of
                                                                       staggering complexity, responsible for
                                                                       our perceptions, thoughts, emotions,
                                                                       intelligence, language and creativity.



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d challenges
  of the Brain
  It is fascinating to review how many of        Decade of the Brain. We also now know         changes in synaptic connections in dif-
  the objectives set by the Dana Alliance        much more about why nerve fibres do           ferent parts of the brain. This basic
  and the European Dana Alliance have            not regenerate over long distances in         research has already led to new drugs
  been achieved or substantially ad-             the adult mammalian brain, and this           to ameliorate the memory disorders of
  vanced. Most dramatic, as in other             offers of the hope, in the near future of     Alzheimer’s and to reduce the spread of
  areas of the biological sciences, is the       dramatic improvements in the treat-           damage in the brain after a stroke.
  pervasive impact of genetic research.          ment of spinal injury and stroke. At the
  The defective genes responsible for            close of the Decade of the Brain, we          FUNCTIONAL IMAGING
  Huntington’s Disease and a variety of          have even witnessed a scientific “revo-       Great progress has been made in the
  other inherited disorders have been            lution”, in the terminology of as Thomas      study of the normal human brain, as
  identified, and several genes have been        Kuhn. One of the strongest dogmas of          well as damaged and diseased brains,
  described that seem to be associated           brain science, namely that no new             not least through the remarkable devel-
  with the familial forms of other clini-        nerve cells are born in the adult brain,      opments in functional imaging. Given
  cal conditions, including Alzheimer’s          has been swept aside with the recent          the recent proliferation of research in
  and Parkinson’s Diseases, Amyotrophic          discovery that new neurons are being          this field, it is hard to believe that the
  Lateral Sclerosis, schizophrenia, manic-       created, especially in the cerebral cor-      first scientific publication on functional
  depression, and even autism and                tex and the hippocampus, which is             Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
  dyslexia. In the post-genomic era, we          thought to be involved in the laying          was less than ten years ago. FMRI and
  can look forward to a much fuller              down of personal memories.                    Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
  understanding of the way in which                                                            are helping us to bridge the gap
  genetic faults lead to, or exacerbate,         PLASTICITY                                    between the detailed knowledge of the
  the hundreds of heritable disorders of         Perhaps the most daunting problem of          structure and function of neurons
  the nervous system. And with that              all in neuroscience is to understand          gained from the study of animals and
  knowledge will come, very quickly,             how the nervous system develops, how          the understanding of human percep-
  new, targeted drugs and preventive             neurons are produced and migrate, and         tion, motor control and cognition, based
  measures. Eventually we can look for-          how nerve fibres find their way to their      on more traditional methods.
  ward to radical genetic treatments,            targets, make synaptic connections,
  including germ-line gene therapy, in           and then, in some cases, use their own        Meanwhile, techniques for recording
  which faulty genes are replaced and            activity to modify the strengths of those     the activity of nerve cells in animals
  whole families are relieved, forever, of       connections and even the structure and        are showing us the way in which the
  the curse of genetic disease. Of course,       function of the target cell. The “plastici-   cerebral cortex is composed of a
  such speculation raises the spectre of         ty” of certain parts of the brain is one of   vast patchwork of functional areas,
  eugenics, a dilemma that brain re-             the most exciting, and potentially valu-      specialized for analyzing particular
  search will have to face and resolve in        able discoveries of the past decade or        aspects of the sensory world or of plans
  the 21st century.                              so. This holds the key to understanding       of action.
                                                 not only normal development, but also
  NEW NEURONS ARE BEING CREATED:                 learning and memory, and the response         “Test-tube” methods have been bril-
  A SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION                        to injury. There have been extraor-           liantly applied, enabling neuroscientists
  Much progress has been made in                 dinary advances in the past ten years         to study, in tissue culture or acute
  understanding the biological basis of          in the study of the various forms of me-      slices of brain tissue, the proliferation
  addiction – a major target for the             mory, which seem to depend on selective       and migration of neurons, the growth of



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 EuroBrain Vol. 2, No. 1 – March 2000




axons and formation of synapses, and              a growing burden of degenerative
chemical communication between and                disease, pain and stroke. At the other
within cells.                                     end of the scale there is great concern
                                                  for the mental health of young children,
BRAIN AWERENESS WEEK                              and the risk of alcohol and drug abuse
To attempt to understand brain function           among adolescents. While we can be
and to overcome illness associated                proud and amazed by what has been
with the brain was the spur for the               achieved in the Decade of the Brain, we
Decade of the Brain. The task of neuro-           must be realistic about the scale of the
                                                                                                      Colin Blakemore
scientists in the coming century is               problems that remain. But with the sup-
immense, but at least the scale of the            port of the public and of governments,
problem and the importance of the                 the 21st century – the “Century of the
effort are increasingly being recog-              Brain” – surely offers hope of further,
nized by the public and by governments            remarkable progress.
around the world, not least because of
the work of the Dana Alliance and the             By Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive,
European Dana Alliance. One of the                European Dana Alliance for the Brain
                                                  and Professor of Physiology, University of Oxford
main programmes of these two organi-
zations is Brain Awareness Week each              Published in Laboratory News
year, in which researchers, clinicians,
advocacy groups, funding agencies
and many others with an interest in
the brain mount events and activities
to raise public awareness. Next
year Brain Awareness Week, from
13-19 March 2000, will be a global
celebration of neuroscience, with activ-
ities all over the world, not only in North
America and Europe.

THE CENTURY OF THE BRAIN
It is probable that every one of us will
be affected by some brain-related dis-
order at some point in our lives. The
World Health Organization predicts that
by the year 2020, depression alone will
be the second most common cause
of the loss of healthy, working life, with
78 million/person years of lost healthy
life every year world-wide. The relent-
less increase in life expectancy will bring



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EuroBrain Vol. 2, No. 1 – March 2000




Brains
  in Brighton
                                           In June 2000, the Victorian seaside town   expertise, the Forum in Brighton has an
                                           of Brighton in South East England will     exciting programme spanning four days.
                                           play host to some 4000 neuroscientists
                                           from around the world. The occasion is     A whole range of topics will be covered
                                           the European Forum of Neuroscience,        and will be presented at lectures, sym-
                                           one of the most important conferences      posia, workshops, posters and discus-
                                           for brain researchers.                     sions :
                                                                                      ➔ brain development
                                           The Forum is being organized by the        ➔ cell biology
                                           British Neuroscience Association, a        ➔ transmission of messages
                                           member of the Federation of European          in the nervous system
                                           Neuroscience Societies (FENS). FENS        ➔ the brain’s control of body functions
                                           represents the many different disci-       ➔ senses and movement
                                           plines within neuroscience not only        ➔ behaviour
                                           within Europe, but also around the         ➔ disorders of brain and mind
                                           world. The pace of progress in research    ➔ computer simulation and
                                           in how the brain and mind work is mov-        artificial intelligence.
                                           ing very fast and the Forum in Brighton
                                           will enable neuroscientists to get         The European Dana Alliance for the
                                           together, exchange knowledge of the        Brain, whose mission it is to promote
                                           latest developments and increase their     brain research to the outside world, is
                                           network of global contacts.                playing an active part in the Forum.
                                                                                      EDAB will be running a press office on
                                           In 1998, European neuroscience put         site so that news from the Forum can be
                                           itself firmly on the map following the     publicised by the media.
                                           Forum in Berlin, designed to comple-
                                           ment the massive annual conference of      Brain Awareness Week, co-ordinated
                                           the Society for Neuroscience in the USA    by EDAB, takes place in March and is
                                           that attracts nearly 30,000 specialists.   now a well-established annual event
                                           Thus, to reinforce the role of European    when universities, hospitals, schools




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                                  EuroBrain Vol. 2, No. 1 – March 2000




                                                                                           Editorial Board:
and even actors and artists organise         over 200,000 people have severe learning      Pierre J. Magistretti, Chairman,
public events related to the brain and       difficulties.                                 Colin Blakemore, Leslie Iversen,
                                                                                           Wolf Singer, Piergiorgio Strata,
brain research. At the Forum EDAB will                                                     Jacques Glowinski, Norbert Herschkowitz
hold a reception at which presentations      The problems confronting neuroscien-          Production Manager:
                                                                                           Béatrice Roth
will be given by a number of our part-       tists around the world are, there-
                                                                                           Contributing Editor:
ners to review the success of Brain          fore, immense which is why a major            Elaine Snell
Awareness Week and encourage more            event, such as the European Forum
people to take part.                         of Neuroscience that attracts world
                                             leaders in brain research, is so vital.
There will be a public discussion on         Discovering how the brain and mind
“Brain, Mind and Society at the              function in health, finding out the
Millennium” where authors of popular         causes and developing ways to diag-
neuroscience books will convey their         nose, treat and prevent brain disorders
thoughts and opinions for the audience       has never been more important – or
to debate. Members of the Dana               more promising.
Alliance from Europe and USA will be
speaking at what promises to be a vig-       By Elaine Snell, Contributing Editor
                                                                                                               The
orous and stimulating evening.                                                                            European
                                                                                                     Dana Alliance
                                                                                                      for the Brain
This Forum in Brighton will undoubtedly
help to advance brain research at a time                                                Chairman
when the world is facing a time bomb                                                    David Mahoney
for brain diseases in ageing popula-                                                    Vice Chairmen
                                                                                        Colin Blakemore,
tions. For instance, in the U.K. alone,                                                 PhD, ScD, FRS
over the age of 65, one in every hundred                                                W. Maxwell Cowan,
                                                                                        BM, BCh, DPhil, FRS
people has Parkinson’s disease and
                                                                                        Chief Executive
eight in hundred people has Alzheimer’s.                                                Colin Blakemore,
But it is not only older people who                                                     PhD, ScD, FRS
suffer. One million children are estimated                                              Executive Committee
                                                                                        Alain Berthoz, Dr ès Sci, Dr Ing
to have some form of mental illness and                                                 Albert Gjedde, Dr Med
                                                                                        Malgorzata Kossut, MSc, PhD
                                                                                        Pierre J. Magistretti, MD, PhD
                                                                                        Richard Morris, DPhil, FRSE, FRS
                                                                                        Wolf Singer, MD, PhD
                                                                                        Piergiorgio Strata, MD
                                                                                        Dana Alliance
                                                                                        for Brain Initiatives - US
                                                                                        Executive Director
                                                                                        Barbara E. Gill

                                                                                        European Dana Alliance for the Brain Limited
                                                                                        Registered Office: 165 Queen Victoria Street,
                                                                                        London EC4V 4DD
                                                                                        Registered in England: 3532108




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