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CORDIS Express

A weekly briefing on European Research & Innovation
Publication date: 2013-05-03



Unravelling the mysteries of the brain

People interested or working in research and development are not without knowing that May is a very particular month for the EU, one dedicated that what is perhaps the most mysterious and fascinating organs of the human body: the brain. The ‘European month of the brain’ will see almost 100 events taking place across Europe (For the official list, click here ), all aiming to make decision-makers, stakeholders, the media and the public aware of the successes achieved and the challenges still laying ahead for brain research.

Under its different Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development, the European Union invested heavily in brain research. The period 2007-2012 saw an investment of almost EUR 2 billion, funding some 1.268 projects and involving 4.312 scientists.

News - Top Stories

How the brain influences our eating behaviour

Why do we overeat and consume more calories than we need? Is food our way of rewarding ourselves, and can stress make us want to eat more? These are just some of the questions a European food study aims to answer.

NEUROFAST ('Integrated Neurobiology of Food Intake, Addiction and Stress') is a project led by the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. It has also gathered together the clinical and experimental expertise of 13 partners from across seven European countries. Their objective, with the support EU-funding of EUR 6 million, is to investigate brain biology in the context of eating behavior, addiction and stress.

The focus will also be on the socio-psychological analysis of determinants of food addiction and substance abuse, as well as risk factors such as stress that drive addictive behaviour.

How is your brain powered?

The brain is one of the most energy-consuming organs. It represents only 2% of the weight of an adult but it uses 20% of the energy produced by the body. Efficient energy supply is crucial for the brain so that our memory, mobility and senses can function normally. On the occasion of the ‘Month of the Brain’ in May 2013, ERC Advanced grantee, Prof. David Attwell at University College London (UK) explains the mechanisms through which the brain is powered. Understanding these mechanisms may allow the development, in the long-term, of innovative therapies for cerebrovascular disorders.

Computers need a power supply to process information, for example when typing a document or surfing the web. The same goes for the operations performed by our brain cells. With his BRAINPOWER project, Prof. David Attwell is setting out to understand how and where the energy supply of the brain is controlled. “The brain is powered by the glucose and oxygen which are provided to it in the blood. Because nerve cells use lots of energy, when they are active they signal to nearby blood vessels, telling the vessels to dilate, in order to deliver more substrates for energy production. These are the mechanisms we are studying.”

Astroglial cells in epilepsy

A clear involvement of astroglial cells in neurological disorders is now gradually emerging. New insights into glia-related mechanisms underlying epileptic seizures have provided new knowledge on some of the fundamental mechanisms of astroglia–neuron signalling in neurological disease.

Astroglial cells represent the most numerous cell type in the central nervous system (CNS), and accumulating evidence indicates their involvement in fundamental mechanisms underlying CNS signalling. This has put forward a new perspective on brain function, indicating that brain information processing is a result of interactive neuronal and glial cell networks.

Based on this, the EU-funded NEUROGLIA cooperative project proposed that dysfunctional astroglia may be involved in the pathogenesis of neurological disorders such as epilepsy. To this end, partners aimed to delineate neuron–glia interactions in the normal as well as the epileptic brain by investigating brain function in animal models and in tissue obtained from epilepsy patients.

These articles have been taken from ERC and CORDIS News, a daily news service updated every weekday lunchtime. For more research and innovation headlines, go to the CORDIS News homepage .

Focus on Innovation

Plant power in the bioactive compounds arena

Plants provide a massive pool of compounds that form the basis of many therapeutic drugs. An EU-funded project scoured the tissues of two wild flowering plants for terpenoids, an astonishingly diverse group of molecules, some of which show promise in the treatment of cancer and central nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Look on any uncultivated hillside and you are likely to find medicinal plants. In particular, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) can both be found growing wild in southern Europe, and feverfew, with its cold tolerance, is indigenous throughout northern Europe.

Both feverfew and rosemary produce chemicals of the terpenoid class that are well known for a variety of health-promoting properties such as their anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and anti-cancer abilities. The European-backed TERPMED project focuses on two types of terpenoids that can be isolated from feverfew and rosemary: sesquiterpene lactones (SLs) and phenolic diterpenes (PDs).

For further information on technology and innovation on CORDIS, go to Technology Marketplace .

Future of Research

German university gets important neuroscience boost

Cutting-edge equipment combined with advanced faculty training has enabled one German university to become a global player in the evolving field of neuroscience.

Neuroscience, the scientific study of the nervous system, is considered an interdisciplinary science that interfaces with other fields such as mathematics, medicine, linguistics, computer science, physics and psychology. The Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald, one of Europe's noblest and oldest universities in Germany's north-eastern region, aimed to enhance its research capabilities in neuroscience.

In this context, the EU-funded project ImpactG sought to help the institution reinforce its neuroscience research potential. The project supported the University in acquiring state-of-the-art equipment and technology to boost its neuroscience facilities, in addition to increasing the faculty's global influence and collaboration opportunities.

The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) service is the starting point when looking for FP7 information on CORDIS.

Around Europe

ERC projects to unlock mysteries of the human brain

To celebrate the European Month of the Brain, researchers funded by the European Research Council (ERC) will participate in two key events organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 14 May, and in Dublin on 27 and 28 of May 2013. On this occasion, the ERC has issued a new publication entitled ‘ERC projects to unlock mysteries of the human brain’.

The brain is the most complex and fascinating organ of the human body. It therefore comes as no surprise that the study of the development, organisation and processes of the nervous system during normal and pathological conditions are highly multidisciplinary, with neuroscience being one of its fastest evolving fields.

The European Research Council (ERC) strongly supports neuroscience with funding of various cutting-edge and innovative research projects. Those include studies on memory and information coding in the brain, genesis and repair of the nervous system, empathy and emotion processes, cell and gene therapy for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, computation models for man-machine interaction or retinal degeneration and blindness. The two events, along with the new publication due to be released on 2 May, will illustrate some of these ERC-funded projects undertaken by leading and passionate researchers.

Top Events

‘European Brain Research: Successes and Next Challenges’, Brussels, Belgium

A conference entitled ‘European Brain Research: Successes and Next Challenges’ will be held on 14 May 2013 in Brussels, Belgium.

The European Union (EU) invested heavily in brain research through its Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development. The period 2007-2012 saw an investment of almost EUR 2 billion, to fund 1.268 projects and 4.312 scientists.

Organised by the European Commission, the conference will notably shed light on some of the most ambitious EU-funded projects focusing on the likes of the mechanisms behind knowledge acquisition, nerve regeneration and empathy, and a new cell therapy for treating blindness.

‘Healthy brain: healthy Europe - A new horizon for brain research and healthcare’, Dublin, Ireland

A conference entitled ‘Healthy brain: healthy Europe - A new horizon for brain research and healthcare’ will be held from 27 to 28 may 2013 in Dublin, Ireland.

According to recent estimates, approximately one-third of European citizens are affected by at least one brain disorder. In 2010, the estimated combined cost to EU member states and associated countries was €798 billion, which is comparable to the cost of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes combined.

Effective management of health, social, educational, employment and productivity costs will not be achieved by improvements in healthcare delivery alone. Rather, the solution lies in new, integrated and innovative national efforts that capitalise on our research strengths and deliver real health benefits.

For more event announcements, see Forthcoming Events in the CORDIS Press Corner.

Calls and Tenders

Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs

This call for proposals aims to select Intermediary Organisations, active in business support, to manage the ERASMUS for Young Entrepreneurs programme locally. These organisations will recruit and assist entrepreneurs to participate in the programme by organising the exchanges abroad. These exchanges enable new or would-be entrepreneurs to work alongside experienced entrepreneurs in another EU or CIP participating country. Entrepreneurs thereby acquire new skills, enrich their experiences and broaden their network, which enhances entrepreneurship, as well as fosters internationalisation and competitiveness of potential start-ups and participating SMEs.

FP7 calls can be viewed in the Seventh Framework Programme's Find a callsection , while a broader selection of calls and tenders are available in the CORDIS News Calls section.

Partners Service

Innovative medical technologies in active aging

An SME initiative entitled ‘Improving of the health with the help of normobaric hypoxic therapy with hyperoxic and hypercapnic effect’ is looking for project participants.

This new medical technology is designed for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of the people suffering from the consequences of aging. The aim is to ensure healthy aging, notably by improving work capacity and endurance. It consists of special gas medical equipment called "Elbrus" which generates breathing gas mixtures at the molecular level. The latter are perceived by the organism as a physiologically reasonable factor and show their effects on the body directly and quickly without any phase transitions.

The proposed medical technology is used to prevent and treat various diseases and for rehabilitation of the body after illness, achieving good results in sport, improving health and reducing the effects of aging. After taking 20 sessions of treatment with normobaric hypooxytherapy with hyperoxygen interval, most patients suffering from bronchopulmonary pathology, for instance, experienced positive signs of recovery. Headaches, general weakness, giddiness disappeared for 93% of patients. 100 % of patients showed an increase in physical endurance and a decrease in fatigability.

The CORDIS Partners Service helps you to find research collaborators in order to benefit from EU or other funding. You can also search by profile type, programme and/or country to Find project partners for FP6 and FP7.

Projects Update

Memory Mechanisms in Man and Machine

Started on 1 May 2013, the project ‘Memory Mechanisms in Man and Machine’ (M4) aims to validate a set of 10 provocative claims. Those include, for instance, the idea that humans can recognize visual and auditory stimuli that they have not experienced for decades; that a few tens of presentations can be enough to form a memory that can last a lifetime; that storing very long-term memories involves the creation of highly selective "Grandmother Cells" that only fire if the original training stimulus is experienced again; and that the neocortex contains large numbers of totally silent cells ("Neocortical Dark Matter") that constitute the long-term memory store.

The project will test all these claims with a highly interdisciplinary approach involving psychology, neuroscience, computational modelling and hardware development. Novel experimental paradigms will study the formation and maintenance of very long term sensory memories. They will be combined with imaging techniques including fMRI imaging, EEG recording, and intracerebral recording from epileptic patients. In parallel, computer simulations using networks of spiking neurons with Spike-Time Dependent Plasticity will model the experimental results, and develop bio-inspired hardware that mimics the brains memory systems.

Coordinated by the French National Centre of Scientific Research, this five-year project is funded under the FP7-specific theme ‘Ideas’ and benefits from EUR 2.5 million of EU funding.

The CORDIS Find a Project section offers factsheets and contact details for projects funded under the Seventh Framework Programme. You can also browse the FP6 projects section (archived) to see what kinds of research proposals have been chosen for European funding in the past.

Finally and Briefly

A brain implant to prevent epileptic seizure

A new device implanted in the brain can safely and accurately predict epileptic seizures among adults whose epilepsy doesn't respond to drugs, according to a study unveiled by Lancet Neurology.

‘I can honestly say there hasn't been anything else like this device, with people with epilepsy walking around with an implanted intracranial electroencephalographic monitoring system. Previously, EEG monitoring has only been done for a few weeks at most, with the patient in the hospital,’ lead scientist Mark Cook told Med Page Today.

The seizure-advisory device, which consists of electrodes implanted between the skull and brain to detect any abnormal electrical activity that might be indicative of a seizure, was tested in 15 patients used to experience between two and 12 seizures per month.