European neuroscience research: the road ahead...

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As the official journal of FENS, EJN contributes to the development and growth of neuroscience research in Europe. Therefore, this issue of EJN opens with a Consensus Document on European Brain Research prepared by the European Brain Council (EBC). Publication of this document in EJN serves to assist raising awareness for the advances made by European neuroscience research and to define key themes of future neuroscience research.

Jean-Marc Fritschy and Martin Sarter, Editors-in-Chief

In the last two decades, neuroscience research has made a big leap forward. The emergence of sophisticated genetic and molecular tools, combined with imaging techniques of unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution, and their application to in vivo models of major brain diseases allowed spectacular progress in our understanding of the structure and function of the brain in health and disease.

Furthering our knowledge of the nervous system generates both opportunities and responsibilities for the neuroscience community – opportunities to shed more light on the pathogenic mechanisms of neurological and psychiatric diseases, and responsibilities to use this knowledge for new therapeutic strategies that will benefit patients and society at large.

The work of the EBC, an umbrella organization established in 2002, involving all major European stakeholders with an interest in the brain, from scientific and clinical societies to industry and patient organisations, has helped the European community to catalyze its efforts in support of brain research across the continent.

The main goal of EBC is to promote neuroscience at all levels in Europe through dialogue and partnership with scientists from different backgrounds. By supporting translational research and the application of new scientific knowledge, new and better therapies for brain diseases can be obtained. EBC works towards a major engagement of European funding agencies in the support of basic and clinical brain research, and wants to raise public awareness of the burden that brain diseases imposes on European society.

The first version of the Consensus Document on European Brain Research, published in 2006 (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry77 Suppl 1:i1-49), has played a key role towards these goals. Furthermore, the EBC’s study of the economic burden of brain disorders showed that 12 major brain diseases cost the European economy and national health systems nearly €400 billion in 2004, and that brain disorders affected 127 million Europeans. The cost of brain diseases is set to rise significantly as the population ages, and new solutions are needed if we are to tackle this approaching crisis effectively. The only way to find these solutions is to develop a strong European platform for brain research, and such a platform can only be built on the basis of consensus.

Much has been achieved since 2006. The explicit wording on brain diseases in the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) has resulted in a significant increase in funding of brain research under the first three calls of FP7, compared with FP6. FP7 funding so far already exceeds that of FP6 overall, and the proportion of the health budget dedicated to brain research has doubled, from 10 to 20%.

The launch of additional initiatives also indicates that awareness of brain diseases is increasing among policy makers. These include the European strategy for tackling neurodegenerative diseases proposed under the French Presidency of the European Union in 2008, the European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being, the call for a Road Map for Mental Health and the Innovative Medicines Initiative. However, the level of research funding still falls short of what is needed to reduce the burden of brain disease, or even to prevent it from increasing in years to come.

For this reason, EBC has undertaken to revise and update the consensus document to highlight changes in research priorities and advances in brain research that have taken place since 2006. Multinational and multidisciplinary teams have once again come together to express their views on priorities to be achieved based on the current strengths in European research. The 43 themes included in the new consensus document have been written by groups of experts from across Europe representing a wide range of disciplines. More than 200 experts, recommended by the different European scientific organisations, have contributed to this revised consensus document.

Each theme underlies the advances made by European research in the field and outlines the priorities for future research. They focus on major diseases and describe the basic research needed to understand, treat, or even cure these diseases. As in the former version, the outline is designed ‘from man to molecule’ with equal importance attached to basic and clinical research.

The EBC is grateful that so many contributors have recognised the enormous value of the original document and have devoted time and energy to realize this revised version. We hope that the Consensus Document on European Brain Research will inspire policy makers and funding instruments throughout Europe, as well as scientists at the bench and in the clinics, to raise to the challenge that brain diseases represent for European society.

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