Translational Neuroscience

The Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering is a joint research and education programme between Harvard and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne [EPFL]. Launched in 2010, teams of scientists are addressing some of the most important issues in medical neuroscience; issues that once solved, will have life-changing outcomes for patients. Its focus is not just on initiating research, but also on establishing cross-border and cross-institution working communities, within which knowledge can be better shared.

The aim of this collaborative project is to bridge the gap between basic and translational neuroscience. In working to achieve its mission, the programme has brought together the complementary specialities of two world-class universities – one, EPFL, with a unique strength in engineering and technology, and the other, Harvard, with a proud and important tradition of “alleviating human suffering cause by disease.”

With the first round of sponsored projects having been concluded, in 2014 Ernesto Bertarelli, on behalf of the Bertarelli Foundation, signed an agreement with Harvard and EPFL to extend and develop the programme, funding five new research projects that will run until 2017:

  • Developing new imaging methods for the inner ear, leading to a new way for diagnostics of hearing loss
  • New generation of auditory brainstem implants, using high-density, flexible electrodes to help patients who ordinarily could not receive an implant due to a damaged inner ear or auditory nerve
  • A gene therapy project that is a continuation of one begun at the very start of the Bertarelli Program, the team of scientists is exploring new viral vectors into the mechanosensory cells of the inner ear
  • Improving how children can be scanned using MRI; using these scans to test abnormal connectivity between brain regions (hypothesised as a cause of autism) and identifying those aspects of brain connectivity that correlate with specific types of autism.
  • Tissue Engineering to develop cell lines that could be transplanted into the retina to reverse certain forms of blindness and to discover drugs that could prevent or reverse retinal degeneration.

There is more about the five current Bertarelli Program research projects here.

The results from the programme’s research projects are shared at the annual Bertarelli Symposium, held alternately in Boston and Geneva. The Foundation also provides a Bertarelli Grant to enable students from both institutions to exchange ideas with students and staff of their partner institution.

As well as establishing the programme, the Bertarelli Foundation’s donation in 2010 also included an endowment of the Bertarelli Professorship in Translational Medical Science. The first incumbent was Dr William Chin, Executive Dean for Research at Harvard Medical School, who has been overseeing the development of the overall programme.

In a further, separate, gift to Harvard established the Bertarelli Catalyst Fund for the Dean of Harvard Medical School, with the goal of “supporting HMS priorities at the discretion of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.”