Conference ‘The future of collaborative brain research’
“If you want walk fast walk alone, if you want walk far walk together”, this African proverb cited by Dr. Karim Berkouk, Deputy Head of Unit ‘Non-Communicable Diseases and the Challenge of Healthy Aging European Commission, summarises at the best the take-home message of the EBC seminar: “Criteria for success: The future of collaborative brain research” that took place in Brussels on the 3rd of March. The main topic of the seminar was indeed collaborative research, more specifically why collaborative and cutting edge brain research in Europe is needed and how it can be promoted in order to foster develop and deliver patient-centric medicines.
The European Union was built as a political wheel to bring countries together, thus creating a natural ground for collaborative research to flourish. Thanks to the 7th Framework Programme for Research, many connections between brain research institutions across Europe were created and, with the new Horizon 2020 programme, the collaborative framework has become wider by setting special agreements in health programmes with non-European countries, in particular the US. These programmes have the merit to generate a sharing of minds, experiences and expertise and already produce some positive effects: the increased number of international collaborations across Europe have led to more impactful publications, as reported by ELSEVIER research intelligence services (www.elsevier.com/research-intelligence/brain-science-report-2014).
Although there was a large agreement that in our fight against brain diseases a combined effort by all stakeholders is the key for success,it was also recognised that more work was to be done in order to facilitate effective collaboration across research consortia. In the course of discussions, representatives from different institutions involved in brain research have discussed some of the issues that needed to be addressed:
Collaborations can be bureaucratic. That is especially true for large collaborations involving partners from the public and private sectors. In this respect, defining by contract at an early stage in the process the roles, responsibilities and rights of each stakeholder could avoid unnecessary problems in a more advanced stage.
Big Data sharing. An international project involving more institutions and that entails the use of high throughput technologies will be likely to generate huge amounts of data. The management of these large data sets requires the development of advanced IT solutions and neuroscientists as well as health experts should be involved at a very early stage of the developmental process.
A more prominent role for patients. Eventually, the main goal is to bring advances in medicine that improve the life of people affected by brain disorders. Therefore it makes a lot of sense that patients and patient organizations play an important role in both research design and policy making process. In particular, there is a need for a very early dialogue between patients and industry as well as other stakeholders and patients should be involved in the risk assessment process to establish which level of risk to take for which level of result.
Communication with Policy makers. Funds allocated for brain research are by far not enough if compared to those allocated for other conditions, e.g. cancer research. Neuroscientists, health professionals and patient organizations involved in brain research should find a more effective way of communication with policy makers to make them aware of the urgent need of treatments for brain disorders.
EBC would like to express its satisfaction and gratitude to all the participants for the good outcome of the event, which was seen by many as extremely successful both in terms of attendance and quality of the discussion. EBC will also assert more in the future its role as catalyst in fostering collaborative brain research in Europe, thus ensuring that we walk all together leads us ever further but also in the right direction.