What future for brain research in Belgium?
Within the 10th anniversary of the Belgian Brain Council and the International Week of the Brain
Summary and conclusions by Dirk Van Roost, BBC President and Jean Schoenen, BBC Founder and current treasurer.
The messages delivered by the participants of this event can be summarized as follows:

1. To join forces to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between medical and non-medical fields (i.e. engineers, computer scientists) and to improve cooperation between research institutions.
2. To improve funding for brain research and neurological diseases (annual public budget: +/- 18 millions €)
3. To invest in both, basic and clinical research.
4. To improve communication and information about brain research activities (including education campaigns) and to involve civil society (i.e. patient’s organizations and their representatives)

The term “translational research” is often used to describe the complementarity of the duality of basic and clinical research. This term seems to imply that such research approach will be funded only if they have well-defined goals to advance knowledge in a specific disease. Researchers are often under the pressure to produce results having an implicit economic impact, such as, a commercial product, a spin-off or job creation. This is hardly consistent with basic research, which should develop freely to be creative and should not be subject to the strict requirement of a single concrete goal within a binding deadline. Many of the innovative scientific breakthroughs (inventions and discoveries) are often “collateral” products, for which the outcomes proved sometimes to be more important than the initial goal of a research project. In the current climate of global economic crisis and budget cuts, patients are concerned about the possible disappearance of organizations that provide them with support and comfort and in which they trust. There is also growing concern about the above described issues among clinicians and researchers. In addition, some leaders and decision-makers believe that limited resources promote the optimal use of available funds, and therefore, imagination and innovation. But this “incentive” is true only if a “critical threshold” of financial and human resources is reached.

The overall conclusion is that scientific research can only remain productive if it is funded at an effective level for a sufficient amount of time, that is, if sufficient structural funding is made available. Scientific research, in particular, that relating to the brain and its diseases, is one of the most profitable investments society can make, considering the “return on investment” in terms of quality of life, longevity and productivity of its citizens.
The participants to this conference make unanimously a plea to political-decision makers to increase financial and structural public resources, initially by € 2 million per year. They also call upon health professionals, patients and the pharmaceutical industry to join and take action for neuroscience research to increase private and industrial resources.

To support this plea the Belgian Brain Council proposes to think and work together to create:

1. A “National Institute for Brain Research” whose principal objective would be to fund and coordinate national multi-center and multi-regional research projects, giving priority to translational research.

2. A “Brain Research observatory” which will create a database of current public and private projects in clinical and basic neuroscience in the country, including clinical trials. The observatory will make data accessible to different stakeholders and will provide upon request, documented advice on science policy in the field of neuroscience.

3. A “Foundation for Brain Research” whose primary mission would be to raise private funds for research, possibly in cooperation with other charities.

By its federative structure including neurologists, psychiatrists, basic scientists, representatives of patient organizations and the pharmaceutical industry, the BBC is ideally placed to coordinate these projects, but nothing will happen without the support of policy makers.

This is the reason why the BBC will organize, as soon as possible, a meeting with all stakeholders to define the possible foundations of these three projects.