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Networking for excellence in functional pharmacology to study the role of fatty acid metabolism in neurological disorders

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FAT4BRAIN (Networking for excellence in functional pharmacology to study the role of fatty acid metabolism in neurological disorders)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-01-31

The Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis (LIOS) is in great need to enhance its scientific performance and this could be accomplished through stronger international collaboration within the defined National RIS3 specialization in biomedicine. Latvia is performing well below the EU-average in terms of research excellence and innovation scoreboard. The FAT4BRAIN project builds cooperation between LIOS from the Widening region and world-leading partners in translational neuropharmacology (Uppsala University, Sweden), metabolism and clinical neuropsychiatry (Eberhard Karls University Tuebingen, Germany), ageing and molecular imaging (Jena University Hospital, Germany), as well as innovative mitochondria research (Oroboros Instruments, Austria). The aim of FAT4BRAIN is to establish a network of excellence focused on the pivotal and common role of fatty acid metabolism in the development of neurological disorders, a topic of highest biomedical and societal concern. The concerted research activities aim at deciphering novel mechanisms and developing new treatment strategies against these devastating diseases. FAT4BRAIN will use a multidisciplinary functional pharmacology approach to promote cutting-edge research in this field. A comprehensive set of activities including workshops, expert meetings, and dedicated trainings for early-stage researchers will enhance knowledge bridging and networking. FAT4BRAIN activities will specifically focus on strengthening capacities in areas that need improvement at LIOS, using the four partners’ excellence and experience. Dissemination of the results to research community, industry partners and public through presentations at conferences, media outputs as well as high impact publications will be facilitated by the partners’ extraordinary reputation and high-impact profile. Importantly, the research excellence of the partnering institutions together with the targeted activities of FAT4BRAIN will help LIOS to improve their own research profile by increasing methodological capacities in preclinical and translational research and improving scientific output in terms of publications of highest quality and impact.
The FAT4BRAIN project implementation impacts research performance in the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis (LIOS), enhances knowledge-bridging and international networking, and promotes cutting-edge research into the exciting role of fatty acid metabolism and mitochondrial fitness in the development of neurological disorders, the regulation of energy metabolism and beyond. A comprehensive set of activities including workshops and trainings dedicated to early-stage researchers (ESRs) provides a concerted, focused, and synergistic action to reach the FAT4BRAIN aims.
Since the kick-off meeting of the FAT4BRAIN project, the first ESR workshop on career development in the series “How to Become a Successful Researcher”, training in scientific writing, the theoretical part of the laboratory animal science education for researchers, and the summer school on mitochondrial functionality assessment in CNS-related applications, were organised. This resulted in the formation of a research network in mitochondrial physiology and ESR focus group, as well as initiated co-ordinated effort to comprehensively review pathophysiological roles of fatty acid metabolites, acylcarnitines, and the assessment of fatty acid oxidation in the brain. More than 53 researchers (43 ESRs; 65% female) participated in the FAT4BRAIN events, and rated the scientific content and obtained skills/knowledge highly. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, several of the project tasks have been implemented as online activities, thus creating new platforms for trainings and discussion forums in the future. Despite travel restrictions, FAT4BRAIN project researchers managed to participate in >30 online conferences/courses.
FAT4BRAIN partnering institutions synergistically benefit from the capacity-building and networking within the FAT4BRAIN activities. Despite the challenging situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple FAT4BRAIN impacts have been reached, including the number of involved early-stage researchers, scientific publishing, international grant applications, contract research agreements, and novel methods for studies of fatty acid metabolism. To disseminate and exploit FAT4BRAIN results within the scientific community of Europe and provide information about the FAT4BRAIN project activities and results to the general public, a communication strategy, plan for exploitation and dissemination of results, as well as communication channels and visual identity (https://twitter.com/fat4brain) were developed.
The success of the FAT4BRAIN consortium as a whole, and LIOS as a Widening country institution, is expected to highlight it as an excellence showcase of impactful transnational collaboration, a proof that outstanding results may be achieved through well-aimed and focused projects. To increase the research excellence of LIOS, the coordinating institution, emphasis was put on collaboration in the area of altered brain energy metabolism in neurological disorders, a cutting-edge research that perfectly aligns with the existing capacities at LIOS. FAT4BRAIN activities are expected to increase S&T capacities of early-stage researchers and workforce in both pharmacology/pharmacy-related research institutions and industry, and positively impact life-long learning. In addition, several FAT4BRAIN events improve transferable skills (grant proposal writing, general scientific writing) and strengthen the networking between FAT4BRAIN partners. FAT4BRAIN implementation enhances the reputation, attractiveness and networking channels of LIOS. Best practices regarding dissemination and communication activities were exchanged between FAT4BRAIN partners. LIOS researchers actively participated in the activities of COST actions, The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) platforms, thus providing a positive impact on closing research and innovation divide in the EU.
The improved capability of LIOS to compete successfully for national, EU and internationally-competitive research funding has already resulted in funding obtained from the European Regional Development Fund, and EU Horizon 2020 program, as well as collaborative research funding from industry. FAT4BRAIN aims to develop a testing platform for the evaluation of fatty acid metabolism that will fill the gap in translational mitochondrial research and provide a unique opportunity to study fatty acid metabolism in both metabolic and neuropsychiatric disorders in pre-clinical and clinical studies. The platform developed within the FAT4BRAIN framework has a potential to have economic impacts through diverse applications: investigation of the role of fatty acids in pathogenetic pathways in the brain and identification of novel drug targets and treatment strategies targeting mitochondrial dysfunction in neurological disorders, thus addressing societal health needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has enforced the use of online tools (e-dissemination, e-courses and meetings) in FAT4BRAIN activities and the promotion of achieved results, thus ensuring both the successful implementation of the project and positive impact on the environment.
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Scientific concept of FAT4BRAIN
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Kick-off meeting