2017 Bertarelli Neuroscience Symposium

Friday 7th of April saw the sixth annual Symposium of the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuronengineering take place at Campus Biotech in Geneva. Bringing together the five Bertarelli teams from EPFL and Harvard Medical School, the Symposium provides an opportunity for progress to be shared, for ideas to be discussed and for plans to be made for further collaboration. Encouraging achievements, including findings yet to be published, were presented for each of the projects, which are addressing hearing loss, macula degeneration and motion-corrected fMRI for children with autism.

As well as the talks from the five Bertarelli teams, the audience heard from five former inspirational Bertarelli Fellows – students from EPFL who had, as part of the Education component of the Program, had spent a year in Boston conducting Master’s research with an HMS-affiliated laboratory – about their experiences and work. There were also four highly engaging keynote speakers who addressed topics in and around the theme of this year’s Symposium: Perception, Learning and Memory (Neuroengineering Persepectives). Harvard’s Margaret Livingstone spoke about modules in the brain and how they develop for our vision perception, while New York University’s Cristina Alberini presented her work on molecular mechanisms of long-term memory storage, in particular the role of the IGF-2 (Insulin-life Growth Factor) protein, previously unknown as having a role in neurobiology. They were followed by EPFL’s Johannes Gräff, who shared his lab’s work in the emerging field of neuroepigenetics and its potential implications for long-term memory storage, particularly for those with Alzheimer’s Disease and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Finally, UPenn’s Michael Kahana gave fascinating insight into his work using mathematical modelling and computational techniques to study memory.

The Symposium drew to a close with words from EPFL’s President, Martin Vetterli, who spoke about how it was fitting that the Symposium was being held at Campus Biotech, a “fertile ground for interactions” and a “toy store for scientists.” He was followed by an impassioned speech from Sir Jackie Stewart, who urged those present to continue their drive to increase knowledge, to further progress in neuroscience, and to ensure that the next generation of scientists are given the teaching and the tools to solve the brain’s mysteries and illnesses, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, an issue about which he actively campaigns. Lastly, Kirsty Bertarelli gave thanks on behalf of the Bertarelli Foundation to all who participated in the Symposium and to all who had combined to make it such a success.

Speaking afterwards, Ernesto Bertarelli said:

“This Symposium, at which our teams of scientists join together to share their work, is a demonstration of the mission of the Bertarelli Program as a whole: To foster collaboration, across continents and across disciplines. As with every Symposium we hold, to hear in person the extraordinary progress being made across our joint projects is to be hugely encouraged and I – and everyone in the room at Campus Biotech – left with great hope for what is being achieved now and what will be achieved in the future.”