2015 Bertarelli Symposium on Translational Neuroscience

Making the impossible possible

The 2015 Bertarelli Symposium on Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering was held today, Friday April 17th, at Campus Biotech, Geneva.

The Symposium brings together scientists from Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to discuss the work that they undertake collaboratively as part of the transatlantic research programme of the same name. The aim of the Bertarelli Programme is to “bridge the existing gap between basic and translational neuroscience”.  It does this by supporting basic and clinical research oriented towards translational opportunities, by creating stronger ties among scientists, engineers and clinicians, and by training the next generation of leaders in the field.

Opened by Professor John Donoghue, Director of the Wyss Center at Campus, the 2015 Symposium was structured around three major themes: rehabilitation and robotics; hearing; and vision. There was also a fascinating analysis of the dynamics of brain networks in children with autism, led by Proessor André van der Kouwe and Professory Dimitri Van De Ville.

The morning session’s focus on rehabilitation and robotics saw Professors Silvestro Micera and Robert Howe update the audience on the remarkable progress being made in terms of robotic hands. This progress is both in terms of their mechanics, their means of sensing the environment to which they respond, the control they can now give, and, crucially, the characterisation of sensation that, through the use of implant electrodes, is now possible.

In the first afternoon session, attention turned to the research being done into both the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss, a medical need that it is both undeniable and, as the audience heard, drastically misunderstood in terms of its scale, both now and in the future. Work being done in this area by the HMS and EPFL teams includes optical techniques for diagnosis and therapy, auditory brainstem implants, and gene therapy in mouse models of human deafness.

Closing the Bertarelli Symposium was the session on vision, opened by Professor Diego Ghezzi who spoke about neuroengineering approaches to vision restoration. Professor Ghezzi was followed by Professors Matthias Lütolf, Michael Young and Yvan Arsenijevic whose work, incredible as it may seem, is focused on tissue engineering the macula. Finally, Professor Thomas Wolfensberger, gave his keynote lecture, Vision Without Light: From Wacky Experiments to Current Clinical Applications of Retinal Implants.

The guiding principle of the Bertarelli Programme is collaboration and the breaking down of borders between disciplines, academic institutions and countries. The Bertarelli Symposium is the defining expression of this principle, bringing together a community of scientists and engineers to share knowledge, to hear about the work being done and to learn about the exceptional progress being made towards outcomes that are truly transformative for people’s lives.