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Final Report Summary - NAMASEN (Neuroelectronics and nanotechnology: towards a Multidisciplinary Approach for the Science and Engineering of Neuronal Networks)

Scientific Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Michele GIUGLIANO
Department of Biomedical Sciences
University of Antwerp, Belgium
michele.giugliano@uantwerpen.be

Web page: http://www.namasen.net

Context and Motivations
The field of Neuroengineering steadily progressed in the last decade and convincingly demonstrated its high potential for our aging society, as a therapeutic intervention for many brain dysfunctions. Restoring or replacing compromised functions in a variety of brain diseases, through an active interfacing of artificial devices to neuronal microcircuits, has been proven to be a reality and no longer an ambitious scenario of science fiction. In fact, we recently witness a number of significant advances in e.g. augmenting artificial motor functions in paralyzed patients, restoring dysfunctional sensory functions, or modulating brain deep structures to suppress symptoms in neurodegenerative and drug-resistant psychiatric disorders. However, although technological advancements in electrodics, (nano)materials, microelectronics, and brain signal processing were so far impressive, an adequate understanding on the way brains adapt to these prosthetic devices, or on how to tailor these devices to the brain, is still missing. Similarly, it is unknown how to optimally exploit intrinsic brain plasticity and neuronal adaptive properties to ultimately influence or engineer the neuronal networks surrounding an artificial implant in the brain tissue, constituting the microscopic biological first-stage counterpart of any brain-machine coupling.
On the other hand, the same progresses in micro- and nanotechnologies and in in vitro tissue- and cell-culturing techniques has allowed reduced (i.e. non-sentient) neurobiological preparations to be studied by means of chronic and noninvasive methods. It is in this context that big pharmaceutical industries became recently very receptive to the implications of such hybrids and adopted those technologies for medium-throughput screening of psychoactive or therapeutic compounds, aimed at refocusing and refining subsequent (whole-animal) testing.
It is on these grounds that the activities of the NAMASEN Initial Training Network blossomed in the last four years, breaking the boundaries between several disciplines, such as neurobiology, electrophysiology, computational neurosciences, microelectronics, materials sciences, and nanotechnologies, in terms of a comprehensive training program and of a world-class research programme.
Summary of project objectives
NAMASEN-ITN established a multi-site network of early stage researchers (ESR) and experienced researchers (ER) at 12 partner institutions, across Europe. Each discipline and its application contexts, ranging from basic research, neuroprosthetics, and pharmaceutical applications, were represented and combined in a concerted effort, accomplishing our vision of training of new generation of researchers and professionals.
A comprehensive training programme was developed and implemented for the ITN fellows, including periodic training workshops and summer schools (open also to external scientists), in addition to the national PhD programs of each hosting institutions.
The key scientific objectives of NAMASEN-ITN included:
• Developing carbon-based nanomaterials and novel surface chemistry to enhance and optimize the electrical interfacing between neuronal tissue and artificial devices, at the cell level;
• Characterizing and mathematically describing the electrical activity dynamics, plasticity, and rewiring, in reduced neurobiological systems;
• Advancing enabling (micro)technologies for novel drug-screening platforms and neuroprosthetics.

Results Achieved
Six summer schools and training workshops were organized across Europe. Several ESRs and ERs completed secondment-training periods, benefitting from partner institutions’ heterogeneity, in terms of resources, equipment, and research interests. The private sector was closely involved in the training and research activities. Complementary trainings were performed for each event, focusing on soft-skills such as Grant Proposals Writing, Presentation and Networking Skills, Ethics, and Public Dissemination.
• More than 30 papers have been published or are under preparation, including top journals such as Nature, Nature Nanotechnologies, Nature Communications, Scientific Reports, Small, Carbon, Journal of Physiology;
• Almost 90 contributions to international conferences and meetings;
• Cross-fertilization with twin ITNs and related EC-funded projects;
• Newly launched FP7 and H2020 EC-funded projects;
• Completion of all milestones and deliverables of the project;

Main results, Expected Results and Potential Impact and Use
• Novel, carbon-based arrays of substrate microelectrodes were fabricated, experimentally tested and validated;
• Surface functionalization of carbon-based substrates was optimised, facilitating neuronal adhesion and electrical signal transfer;
• Quantitative mathematical models were defined to describe dynamical and plastic properties of neuronal networks, their activity-dependent (re)wiring, and the biophysics bases of electrical signal transduction by artificial devices;
• Adoption of neuroelectronic technologies for pharma-industry medium throughput screening.

The NAMASEN-ITN has offered unique career-development opportunities, with one ER being promoted to Chief Scientific Officer of a SME. The network represented and will continue to represent a virtual institute of technological, neurobiological, industrial, and preclinical research that can hardly be matched in quality and breadth by even the best academic institutions. The NAMASEN activities will continue in forthcoming joint application, continuing strengthening academic and industrial collaborations and representing a new standards for European research, as a model for graduate training programmes substantially advancing fundamental and applied research at the interface between neurosciences and (micro/nano)technologies.

Related information

Contact

Anne Adams
Tel.: +3232653028
Fax: +3232653011
E-mail
Record Number: 187940 / Last updated on: 2016-08-12
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