Loading Events

Across the globe, society is facing brain challenges like never before — improving the health and wellbeing of citizens has become the top priority for many governments and brain health should not be left behind. In the lead up to Brain Awareness Week 2024, EBC will hold its annual event around brain health awareness in line with its ongoing advocacy work such as the Pledge for Science, Global Call to Action and 2024 EU Elections Manifesto, which all call for increased attention, prioritisation and investment in brain health at the European and global levels.

Brain Awareness Week is the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Every March, the week unites the efforts of partner organizations world-wide in a celebration of the brain for people of all ages. EBC takes part annually with an initiative to promote and communicate on brain health and research, showcasing ongoing efforts to prevent and treat brain disorders – neurological and mental alike – in Europe. The goal of these activities is to gain more attention for brain health, not only from within the wider brain community but also from EU policymakers and the public, to ensure that more resources are channelled towards prevention awareness, research on the brain and for the 179 million Europeans currently living with some form of brain condition.

The event was held in the European Parliament in Brussels on 7 March 2024, hosted by Member of European Parliament (MEP) Colm Markey (EPP, IE), bringing together stakeholders in the space, including clinicians, researchers, patients, and additional MEPs and civil servants. Key policy asks were presented by the brain community and showcased the importance of placing the brain as a top health and research priority in the EU; not only to tackle the growing burden of brain disorders in Europe — neurological and mental alike—but to recognise that by prioritising the brain, we prioritise the health of all citizens: to live in health and in happiness, to power our labour markets and economies, and to build for future generations. Instead of divesting in a cost, policymakers and society at large should view the prioritization and support of brain research as an investment into prevention, wellness, and optimization.

Official Aftermovie

Full Event Recording

Event Highlights

“If you look at the cost [of brain disorders] to the health services, it is estimated to cost €800 billion a year. It’s the equivalent of cardiovascular, cancer, and diabetes all put together.” – MEP Colm Markey

Host Member of the European Parliament, MEP Colm Markey (EPP, IE) kicked off EBC’s Brain Awareness Week 2024 event, No Health Without Brain Health, by welcoming the audience to the European Parliament and reminding the audience of how crucial tackling the growing burden of brain conditions and prioritising brain health and research in Europe currently is. These conditions, when paralleled with an ageing European population and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, urgently require increased support at policy level – in terms of public health and research investment— both at the EU and global levels. Prof. Suzanne L. Dickson, EBC President, followed by announcing the ongoing #NoHealthWithoutBrainHealth campaign, which launched ahead of the event, and will run through the European Elections in June 2024 and into the new mandate, calling for an increased recognition and prioritisation of brain health, research and innovation in the European Union. “We not only need to do more, we need to do better,” Prof. Dickson stated, sharing with the audience some of the key policy asks from EBC’s 2024 Elections Manifesto, particularly reiterating strong calls from the brain community for a European Parliament Intergroup on Brain Health & Research.

Testimonies on Lived Experiences and Policy Asks from the Patient Community

Astri Arnesen, President of the European Federation of Neurological Associations, then took the floor to share her lived experience of brain disorders, echoing policy asks from the European patient community. Existing silos across the European Union should be built down, to foster cooperation between all relevant stakeholders, ensure they have access to relevant data and be able to make a real impact for patients. “Please stop overprotecting us. […] Patients dedicate time and efforts to provide information, to provide the data. We want it to be used.”

Péter Kéri, President of GAMIAN-Europe, underlined the stigma surrounding mental health disorders by sharing his own story: “I was lost. I spent years trying to hide my illness. My family wanted me to hide my illness”. Policymaking will not be able to effectively address the burden of brain disorders without actively listening and considering the voices of patients. The need to share knowledge between professional, policymakers and patients, coupled with increased support and funding is the only way to tackle the disparities and inequalities that persist for patients across Europe.

Addressing the Burden and the Challenges of Brain Disorders

“When we look into the future, to 2030, we can see that brain health disorders will be responsible for over 11 million deaths. If we look at disability, this represents 240 million years lived with disabilities. This is the reason why we are here today: to put brain health at the top of the agenda.”

Looking ahead towards a new roadmap in brain and mental Health, Elena Alvarez-Barón, Global Medical Affairs Director Specialty Care at Angelini Pharma, reminded the audience of the importance to foster collaboration while making brain health a priority. To ensure care pathways are harmonised across Europe, research must be adequately funded and supported, and healthcare systems must be thoroughly compared and analysed to highlight examples of good practices. Co-presenter, Elisa Milani, Senior Consultant for Healthcare Area at The European House – Ambrosetti, then presented the Headway Initiative, a concrete example highlighting state of the art practices in the management of brain disorders. This demonstrates how crucial having proper data available is for policymakers to make informed decisions when tackling the burden of neurological and mental disorders.

“We have heard a lot about numbers. Just remember that behind every single one of these numbers, there is a person that suffers. And I think we have an almost ethical obligation to do everything we can, with the competences we come with, to help these patients.”

Next, Morten Grunnet, Vice President and Head of Neuroscience at Lundbeck, spoke on the latest Science and Innovation in the Brain Space, asserting that individual data is of no interest to the industry: the main goal is to detect patterns in the development of brain disorders. While the human brain is a relatively new field of research, several breakthroughs are happening in the field, highlighting the European Union’s position at the forefront of brain research. This position can only be kept if research infrastructures are properly maintained. “From a scientific perspective, we have a very good and competitive environment in Europe right now. It’s an opportunity, and almost a need, that we keep this competitive environment…we have to secure that innovation stays in Europe.”

Catherine Berens, Deputy Head of Unit, DG Research and Innovation, People Directorate – D1 ‘Combatting Diseases, European Commission, provided insight on the State of Brain Research in Europe, detailing the various initiatives funded by the European Union to promote and foster brain health, research and innovation. Over the next few years, the main goal will be to structure the European brain research ecosystem around umbrella initiatives, such as the CSA BrainHealth (in which EBC is a partner) –paving the way towards a European Brain Health Partnership in 2026. While the need for increased research and investment is real, prevention must not be left aside, as it also plays a crucial role in tackling the burden of brain conditions.

“We have come to a point where time is really ripe to go to the next level and bring these initiatives together […] under the same umbrella to further strengthen the European brain area and boost European competitiveness in that field.”.

Panel Discussion: Policy Asks from the Brain Community in View of the EU Elections

Frédéric Destrebecq, Executive Director of the European Brain Council, opened the panel of EBC Members representing the leading European scientific and clinical organisations, inviting them to relay key policy asks from the brain community ahead of the 2024 European Elections.

“Brain health does not start in adulthood. Brain health starts even before pregnancy,” Prof. Kevin Rostasy, President of the European Paediatric Neurology Society initiated the discussion by highlighting the importance of considering brain health across the entire lifespan, taking into account the effects of multiple environmental determinants. Prof. Martien Kas, President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, acknowledged the increased efforts of the European Union in funding research projects, but however recalled that a significant number of very promising ones still remain underfunded or without any funding at all.

“Time has come to bring the right treatment to the right patient at the right moment in time. What this requires is a fundamental understanding of the brain, in health and diseased.” – Martien Kas.

Prof. Livia De Picker, Board Member and Chair of the Publication Committee of the European Psychiatric Association, then discussed the necessity for brain health to really be understood as encompassing both neurological and mental health. “Given the complexity that we are facing, we really cannot afford to compete against each other. We really need to collaborate between neurologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and other allied specialities, to solve the challenges that we are facing.”

Dr Tomás Ryan, representing the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, emphasized the lack of funding in Europe for basic brain research: This lack of competitiveness is one of the reasons behind the current brain drain, which further undermines the European research and innovation ecosystem. “There is no brain health without brain understanding, and therefore we cannot have investment without investigation into how the brain works.” Michael Crean, Deputy Executive Director and Head of Advocacy of the European Academy of Neurology, urged for coordination and support at the EU level for national brain health plans, in order to avoid fragmentation and siloing of knowledge across Europe.

Concluding Remarks by Host MEP, Colm Markey (EPP, IE) and EBC President, Prof. Suzanne Dickson

MEP Colm Markey reflected on the various presentations and policy asks voiced during the event and reiterated his support for the cause of brain health, acknowledging the potentials for the creation and need for a Parliamentary committee or intergroup on brain health in the European Parliament during the next mandate, and the need to break past the traditional silos of neurological health, mental health, and address brain health as one. Prof. Suzanne L. Dickson thanked the audience for gathering in Brussels for this event and shared a message of hope for the years to come considering the significance of the discussions held throughout the event for the future of brain health and brain science in Europe.

Special thanks to our event partners for their support:

Speakers Biographies

Dr. Elena Alvarez-Baron, Global Medical Affairs Director Specialty Care at Angelini Pharma, is a Medical Affairs leader who has guided and executed key projects across different therapeutic areas and product life cycle stages. Passionate about the enigma of the brain and #brainhealth, she obtained her PhD in neuroscience at the university of Bonn. The last >12 years she has worked for several companies focused on developing innovative therapies to improve the lives of people affected by neurological and psychiatric disorders, including among others, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, schizophrenia and depression. Always inspired by patients, she believes in the importance of personalized medicine.

When Astri was born in Norway in 1962, her mother had not yet developed symptoms of Huntington’s Disease (HD), but she did become sick a few short years later. Her disease progressed throughout Astri’s childhood and adolescence until she finally passed away in 2004. Astri has been engaged as a patient representative and advocate since the mid-1980s.  From 2004-2014 she was the President of the Norwegian Huntington Association and from 2010  joined the board of the European Huntington Association (EHA), to which she was elected President in 2016. Astri now works full time for EHA, but in her previous career was head of department for a unit providing expertise in special educational needs to stakeholders in the educational sector from kindergarten to university level.

Astri is educated as a teacher in learning disabilities and has additional university degrees in developmental psychology, management and innovative processes. Through her longterm engagement in the HD field Astri has gained a wide network within the HD community all over Europe and globally.  Astri is also active in the rare disease field through her engagement with Eurordis and the European Reference Networks (ERN).  Astri is also part of the steering committee for so-called ePAG’s (patient reps in the ERN’s).

Dr Catherine Berens is the Deputy Head of Unit ‘Combatting Diseases’ in the People Directorate of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD). She was trained as a pharmacist and obtained her PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. After having worked for the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (European Pharmacopoeia, Council of Europe, Strasbourg), she joined the European Commission in Brussels in 2002, as a Scientific Officer in charge of Rare Diseases in the Health Directorate of DG RTD. From 2012, she worked as a Policy Officer for Pharmaceuticals in then-Directorate-General Enterprise and Industry, dealing with pricing and reimbursement of pharmaceuticals, and access to medicines. In 2014 she was appointed Head of Sector Neuroscience in DG RTD, and from September 2016, worked as the Assistant to DG RTD’s Deputy Director-General in charge of Research Programmes. She was appointed Deputy Head of Unit ‘Strategy’ in DG RTD’s Health Directorate in 2018, Deputy Head of Unit ‘Healthy Lives’ in DG RTD’s People Directorate in 2019, and became Deputy Head of Unit ‘Combatting Diseases’ in 2021.

Michael Crean is Deputy Executive Director and Head of Advocacy at the European Academy of Neurology (EAN), where he has worked since 2019. He manages the EAN’s advocacy initiatives, coordinating with the communications committee. Previously, Michael worked in communications at the European Society of Radiology and managed FP7 and Horizon Europe projects at the European Institute for Biomedical Imaging Research. He holds degrees in political science, sociology, and philosophy from the National University of Ireland.

Frédéric Destrebecq is the Executive Director of the European Brain Council since October 2014. In this capacity, he is responsible for providing strategic direction and leadership while managing the day to day operations of EBC and its ongoing relationships with its member associations and other stakeholders, as well as representing the organisation in various European and national forums.

Fred holds a Master Degree in Political Science and International Relations from the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium). He also studied at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Paris) and University of Wales College (Cardiff), in the framework of the former EU Socrates exchange programme. Prior to EBC, Fred served the European Union of Medical Specialists (UEMS) as Chief Executive Officer, and previously as Director for European Affairs.

Professor Suzanne L Dickson is a neurobiologist and Professor of Neuroendocrinology at the University of Gothenburg. She graduated with a Ph.D. in Neuroendocrinology from the University of Cambridge in 1993, where she later became Senior Lecturer in Physiology. She is a leading figure in neuroendocrinology and works within many European Union and international organisations and societies to promote research, facilitate grant funding and training of Early Career Scientists. Her research into the neurobiology of appetite aims to unravel neurobiological pathways that respond to orexigenic signals, such as the hormone, ghrelin, and that drive feeding behaviours, not only food intake but also food choice, food anticipation, food reward and food motivation. This work involves mostly preclinical studies and includes behavioural tasks, viral vector mapping, chemogenetics and RNAscope. She is Secretary and Executive Board member of the European College for Neuropsychopharmacology, and also chairs ECNP’s Workshop for Early Career Scientists in Europe. She also is founder and co-chair of ECNP’s nutrition network and EBRA’s BRAINFOOD cluster.

Morten Grunnet is Vice President and Head of Neuroscience at Lundbeck, Honorary Professor at University of Copenhagen and CSO at Acesion Pharma.
During his studies, post-doctoral tenure at UC and further research career he has published > 150 peer review scientific papers and patents. He has held a position as full professor for more than 10 yrs at University of Copenhagen and has extensive experience with large research collaborations. He has co-founded Poseidon Pharmaceuticals, and Acesion Pharma, and was in 2016 named Life Science Entrepreneur of the Year in Denmark.
In 2004 Morten joined Neurosearch NS and held several research and managerial positions in Neurosearch until he in 2012 joined H. Lundbeck NS as Principal Scientist.
During his tenure at Lundbeck he has held positions within Research, Chief of Staff in R&D Executive Management Office, Project & Portfolio Management as Global Project Lead, and has concurrently served as a key driver for developing and implementing cross-functional strategic projects across Lundbeck: Starship (defining indication space), Galaxy (redefining entire R&D organization), Constellation (Shaping the project Matrix organization)
Morten re-joined Lundbeck’s Research organization ultimo 2021 and are now heading the Neuroscience organization as Vice President.

Martien J.H. Kas is associate professor in the Department of Translational Neuroscience, Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, at the University Medical Center Utrecht, where he leads a work group entitled “Translational Behavioral Genetics” that researches cross-species behavioral genetics to better understand origins and develop treatments for psychiatric disorders.

He is president of the Dutch Behavioural Genetics Association, board member and treasurer of the Dutch Neuroscience meeting and the Dutch Neurofederation, and executive committee member of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Péter Kéri was born in Budapest and graduated as a teacher in 1992. He obtained his second degree in Public Relations in 2007. After a brief period of teaching in primary and secondary schools, he pursued a certificate in advanced travel management. Over the course of ten years, he specialized in designing special incentive group travel for multinational companies in Hungary, which allowed him to travel to various countries around the world and gain exposure to diverse cultural environments. During this time, his outspoken blog gained popularity not only within his cultural circles but also across the country. 

For several years, Peter has been working at the Hungarian organization Awakenings Foundation, where he is responsible for the foundation’s innovations and projects. In addition to his involvement with self-help groups, he has contributed his own innovations to ensure that people with chronic mental illness in different care systems can access daily assistance, similar to other chronic patients.

He states, “My personal experience of the life events contributed to my late onset psychosocial problems, dealing with mental illness at the age of 43 and my journey to overcome it have helped others learn how to navigate some of life’s most difficult situations.”

Peter has also co-authored numerous studies and research papers and has been honored with the Anti-stigma Award in Hungary. 

For more than 5 years, Peter has been actively collaborating with GAMIAN-Europe, dedicated to sharing knowledge and promoting the best models of care, research, and self-help for all individuals. He is President of GAMIAN-Europe and Member of the Board of European Psychiatric Association, Founder of felepules.org the first digital peer-support booking system. 

Colm Markey is a Member of the European Parliament representing the constituency of Midlands North-West. Stretching from Connemara to Drogheda, Athlone to Malin Head, this is a diverse constituency with a variety of issues, but Colm’s guarantee to you is that he will work hard in YOUR interest.

Colm lives in Togher, Co. Louth on his family farm, with his partner Aisling and their two young children.  As a farmer, an entrepreneur, and a family man he understands many of the issues that affect our communities.

He is a former President of Macra na Feirme and has been a public representative for over a decade. With Brexit and Covid, CAP reform and our environment on the agenda the need for a constructive voice in Europe has never been more important.  In his role in Macra he was involved in negotiations on behalf of members at both national and European levels.

Colm has a strong interest in Community Development and has secured vital funding for local recreation and community facilities.  When appointed as MEP, he was serving as Chair of the Louth Leader partnership which has helped to establish over 200 sole traders and small businesses in the previous 12 months.  He has also served on the Board of IFAC, The National Economic and Social Council and the National Youth Council of Ireland.

Project Coordinator of “Headway – A new roadmap in Brain and Mental Health” and Senior Consultant of the Healthcare Area of The European House – Ambrosetti since 2017 working on initiatives in the Health Economics field (epidemiological studies, economic impacts, burden of disease, policy evaluation). She graduated in Business Engineering at the Politecnico of Milan and has a Master of Science in Health Economics and Management at the University of Bologna. She is the author of numerous reports, paper, and articles on communicable diseases (with a focus on vaccines and antimicrobial resistance), non-communicable diseases (in particular, Brain and Mental health), healthcare system evaluations and the effect of socio-demographic changes on society, and of the annual Meridiano Sanità Report.

Livia De Picker MD PhD graduated with a summa cum laude medical degree at the University of Antwerp, Belgium in 2012, after which she simultaneously started her PhD and residency training program to become a psychiatrist. In 2013, she joined the board of the European Federation of Psychiatric Trainees (EFPT), She led the organization as president in 2015-2016, during which time she hosted the 24th annual European Forum of Psychiatric Trainees in her home town of Antwerp. During her training, she got the opportunity to work as visiting scientist at the University of Southampton (UK) and psychiatric resident at the University Medical Center Leiden (NL). She also won the first prize at the Antwerp Doctoral School Science Communication Contest. After graduating as a psychiatrist in 2019, and defending her PhD thesis in 2020, Livia is now working at the University Psychiatric Hospital Duffel (Belgium) as postdoctoral researcher and medical director of two clinical units of dialectical behaviour therapy for patients with emotion regulation disorders.

Her work revolves at the interface of research, clinical care, and health care policy – focusing on synergies between these three domains and strategies for translational implementation of evidence-based policy. Livia has become an influential early career clinician-scientist who has been constantly promoting the field of biological psychiatry both in Belgium and Europe. She is currently the president of the Belgian College for Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry (BCNBP), and a board member of the European Psychiatric Association (EPA). Within ECNP, she has fostered educational opportunities for early career researchers through her involvement in the Early Career Advisory Panel (2015-2019), Educational Committee (2017-2019), Abstract & Poster Committee (2019-2022) and Workshop Committee (2023-ongoing). Currently she is also co-chair of the ECNP Immuno-NeuroPsychiatry Network and is leading international collaborative research projects on COVID-19 and mental illness.

Professor Kevin Rostasy is the current President of the European Paediatric Neurology Society (EPNS) and has been Head of Paediatric Neurology at Witten/Herdecke University, Children’s Hospital Datteln, in Germany since 2014. From 2007 to 2014 he was Head of Paediatric Neurology, Medical University Innsbruck, Austria, after spending 6 years as a Paediatric Neurologist at the Medical University, Göttingen, Germany where he gained his PhD in 2006. During his training he spent time working at the Hospital for Children, Boston, USA and the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, Scotland.

His main field of clinical and research interested is neuroimmunology (MOGAD, MS, OMS, Autoimmune encephalitis, GBS/CIDP). An advocate for equitable access to the highest standard of patient care in neurology for children, he is involved in many collaborations including being Head of EPNS Research Group Neuroinflammatory Diseases and a longstanding a member of the German Society of Neuropediatrics (GNP).

Tomás originally graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2005 with a BA in genetics. He completed his Ph.D. in molecular neuroscience with Seth Grant at the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in 2009. His thesis work was supported by a Wellcome Trust PhD Fellowship. Following a year as Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, University Cambridge, he relocated to the USA to work as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the group of Susumu Tonegawa (Nobel Laureate, 1987) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (2010-2016). At MIT he was centrally involved in the development of novel genetic methods that allow for the labelling and manipulation of specific memory engrams in the rodent brain. This work was supported by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and RIKEN Brain Sciences Institute, Japan. He started his research group in 2016 at Trinity College Dublin, where he is Assistant Professor of Neuroscience. Tomás also holds a joint faculty position at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His research is supported by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (PIYRA), and a Jacobs Foundation Fellowship. Outside of science, Tomás’ interests include travel, reading, philosophy, and politics.

Share this article