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.”

Bertarelli Foundation research grants at Harvard and EPFL will tackle sensory disorders

The Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering, a collaborative program between Harvard Medical School and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, has announced a new set of grants worth $3.6 million for five research projects. This is a further strengthening of the partnership between Harvard and Swiss scientists begun in 2010.

Three of the five projects will pursue new methods to diagnose and treat hearing loss. A fourth project focuses on the dynamics of brain networks in children with autism, and the fifth on cell transplantation strategies that could reverse certain forms of blindness.

The research projects were all selected for their scientific quality, the novelty of the approach proposed and the potential for genuine clinical impact. Three of the research projects are a continuation of the successful research projects from the Bertarelli Program, focusing on novel approaches to understanding or treating sensory disorders.

Commenting on the new research, Ernesto Bertarelli, Co-Chairman of the Bertarelli Foundation, said:

“When my family and I had the vision for this program, it was based upon bringing together scientists and medical specialists from different disciplines and countries to really push the boundaries of neuroscience and neuroengineering, creating a melting-pot of different talents, passions and visions united by a commitment to find ground-breaking ways to treat people and to make their lives better. What has been achieved since 2011 is highly encouraging. What might be achieved with these new research projects is just as exciting.”

To promote collaborations between US and Swiss based scientists as well as between neuroscientists and engineers, the funding conditions stipulate that each project be an equal collaboration between Harvard and at EPFL. This incentivises researchers to to find new collaborators with complementary skills. This in turn led to new interdisciplinary projects that combined technologies and approaches in novel ways.

Jeffrey S. Flier, Dean of Harvard Medical School commented:

“We are delighted at the continued generosity of the Bertarelli Foundation.  This type of forward-thinking support is exactly what’s needed to help us continue to unravel the profound complexities of the human brain.”

David Corey, HMS professor of neurobiology and Director of the Bertarelli Program for Harvard Medical School, said,

“The past 40 years of basic research in neuroscience have produced an extraordinary understanding of how the brain works, and how it can malfunction in neurological and psychiatric disease. We are now at a point where we can use this understanding to treat these devastating diseases. The Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering combines basic neuroscience with the technology and problem-solving focus of engineering to accelerate the delivery of new treatments to the clinic. The tremendous success of the first round of projects has amply validated the vision of the Bertarelli Foundation in creating this unique collaborative program.”


Partnerships renewed at Harvard Medical School and EPFL

The Bertarelli Foundation has today signed gift agreements with Harvard Medical School and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne that will secure and develop the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering. The new donations – totalling several million dollars – will fund the continuation of the education, research and knowledge-sharing program that was established in 2010. The signing of the gift coincided with the third annual Bertarelli Symposium, which took place in January at Harvard.

A unique partnership between American and Swiss universities, the Bertarelli Program brings together medics and scientists in neuroengineering to develop new therapies that will have real life-changing outcomes for patients with psychiatric and neurological diseases. It is this aim that really defines ‘Translational Neuroscience’ – marrying our increasing knowledge of the brain and nervous system with advances in neuroengineering to create results that are truly transformative. Among the research that is being undertaken are projects that are looking into cures for congenital deafness, as well as how we might combat paralysis – using electrodes and pharmaceuticals to reawaken the dormant circuitry that controls movement.

A further gift will establish 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.”

Commenting on the renewed partnership with EPFL and Harvard, Ernesto Bertarelli, Co-Chair of the Bertarelli Foundation, said:
“My family’s commitment to life sciences research goes back three generations. That is why we are particularly pleased to have cemented our association with these two world-leading institutions. The scientists on the Bertarelli Program are undertaking work that could herald astonishing and vital achievements – progress that could, potentially, improve the lives of many millions of people. The program also, I believe, serves as an example of what can be accomplished through real and meaningful collaboration.”

Image ©Steve Gilbert