What does the developing brain tell us about neural diseases?


E. T. Stoeckli, as above.
E-mail: esther.stoeckli@imls.uzh.ch


In a recently published report, the European Brain Council estimated that the annual cost of brain disorders is larger than the cost of all other disease areas combined, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes. The World Health Organization concluded that approximately one-third of the total burden of disease in Europe is attributable to brain disorders. Therefore, drug development for neural diseases should flourish and attract large pharmaceutical companies and smaller enterprises alike. However, this is far from being the case: industry is cutting down on research and investment in brain disorders in Europe. Political reasons may be contributing to this, but they do not constitute the only explanation. An important reason for the decreasing interest and investment is the lack of drug targets in neural diseases. In order to change this, greater efforts at understanding the etiologies and pathogenetic mechanisms of disorders of both the developing and the adult brain are required. We need to strengthen basic research to understand the brain in health and disease. A shift from translational to basic research is required to meet the need for drugs and therapies in the future. In support of this, I summarize some recent studies indicating that the developing brain has much to offer in this respect. The processes and genes involved in brain development are linked to the etiologies not only of neurodevelopmental but also of neurodegenerative diseases.