Monthly Archives: November 2014

To support countries in their national efforts to recognize dementia as a public health priority and to take action, the WHO will host first Ministerial Conference on dementia in March 2015, expanding advocacy efforts to 193 member states.

Taking place on 3 to 4 March 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland, the Conference will be supported by the OECD and the UK Department of Health.

Researchers in Oxford, UK have discovered a specific network in the brain that is the first to degenerate with age and also the most vulnerable spot for the development of schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to analyze changes in the brain structures of 484 healthy participants, ages eight to 85 years.

“Our results show that the same specific parts of the brain not only develop more slowly, but also degenerate faster than other parts,” said researcher Dr. Gwenaëlle Douaud, at Oxford University’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB).

“These complex regions, which combine information coming from various senses, seem to be more vulnerable than the rest of the brain to both schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, even though these two diseases have different origins and appear at very different, almost opposite, times of life.”
The researchers used a “data-driven” approach for the study. Instead of looking for a particular pattern of brain change over the lifespan in a specific location of the brain, they analyzed all the imaging data to see what patterns appeared.


A crucial element of the Joint Programming Process is the alignment of national and European strategies and research programmes with Strategic Research Agendas (SRAs) of Joint Programming Initiatives (JPI).

The High-level Working group on Joint Programming (GPC) has produced a report with the objective of exploring the concept of alignment in order to develop a common understanding of the ways alignment is undertaken in the context of Joint Programming; producing practical recommendations to implement actions that lead to alignment and making proposals for establishing measurable targets to help monitor the progress of alignment.

The report of the group, chaired by JPND Executive Board member Mogens Horder, is availaable for download at the file link below.

In a guest post, Prof. Elena Cattaneo, University of Milan, Italy reports in EUROSTEMCELL on recent research that examines how a particular type of cell develops in the human brain, and how studies like this fit into the overall picture of research collaboration and funding, in Italy and in Europe.

The striatum is the area of the brain that degenerates in Huntington’s disease (HD) – a neurodegenerative disorder that as of today, has no cure. It took 4 years of continuous experiments of 17 researchers from 6 groups in 2 European countries to understand more about how cells develop in the striatum. This work, led by the group at the University of Milan, was published in Nature Neuroscience on 10 Nov 2014.

According to Prof. Cattaneo, “this kind of study is important because we need to understand more about how our tissues and our cells develop in order to understand why they degenerate. This will also allow us to build strategies to slow the advancement or prevent the onset of disease“.

We identified how striatal neurons mature in the human brain, at a molecular and functional level. These neurons are the ones that die in Huntington’s disease. During the earlier stages of the development of the brain, stem cells are found in an area just around the ventricles. Stem cells destined to generate the striatal neurons possess an identifying molecular code, which then turns into a second code acquired by the cells when they move from this location en route to the striatum. Then, a third identifying code is acquired when the cells finally reach the striatum, where they will remain.  For the first time, we could study these 3 steps in development, working with post mortem tissue”

Source:  EuroStemCell website

Experts in innovation in care and risk reduction recently met at the third Global Dementia Legacy event in Japan to explore how new technology can improve the lives of those with dementia, as well as looking at whether lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of developing dementia.

JPND chair, Philippe Amouyel presented JPND approaches in this area on day two of the conference. His slides can be viewed at the link below.

The fourth, and final legacy event will take place in Washington, DC, USA in February 2015.

Parkinson’s disease patients can find hope in a new treatment, thanks to stem cell research that successfully replaces damaged nerves. Swedish researchers have figured out how to create neurons that become lost in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients. They published their findings in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Carried out under the leadership of Malin Parmar of Lund Univerity, a member of the European consortia NeuroStemcell, the study reports an important experimental novelty in regenerative medicine strategies. This could pave the way to the clinical application of stem cells in patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

In the study, researchers took human embryonic stem cells (hESC) from in vitro fertilization embryos and grew them into motor neurons. The neurons were transplanted into the brains of rats with Parkinson’s disease, and over the course of five months, their dopamine levels rose back to normal.
The study showed that these new neurons are capable of mimicking the features of damaged neurons as well as connecting to neurons of the host brain through a dense network of branches reaching target brain areas. This discovery can open new perspectives for the future development of innovative treatments of this and other neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington’s Disease.

The EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND) will shortly begin a major new cohesive action with the European Commission – the first concrete synergy between JPND and Horizon 2020 designed to address the global threat of neurodegenerative diseases.

As part of this new initiative, JPND will launch a joint transnational call for proposals in January 2015 aimed at supporting transnational research collaborations in three JPND priority areas:

  • Longitudinal Cohorts
  • Advanced Experimental Models
  • Risk and Protective Factors

The aim of the call is to support a limited number of ambitious, high level, innovative, multi-national and multi-disciplinary collaborative research projects that will add value to the respective research areas.

The call will see more than 30 million euro being made available by JPND member countries, including a significant additional European Commission “topping up” component of up to 30%.

This will be a 2-step call, anticipated to launch in early January 2015, with a likely first stage (pre-proposal submission) deadline of March 2015.

Further detail will be provided at the time of the call launch date in January 2015. However, the indicative titles of each call topic are provided below:

Topic 1: Genetic, epigenetic and environmental risk and protective factors of neurodegenerative diseases:

Due to the phenomenal number of high quality proposals received but unsupported under the 2012 JPND joint transnational call, JPND is re-launching a call topic in this area. Examples of areas covered under this topic again include identification of novel genetic, epigenetic and environmental risk and protective factors associated with neurodegenerative disorders in animal, cell and human studies.

Topic 2: Longitudinal cohorts in neurodegenerative disease research:

The key priority under this topic will be to enhance the capabilities of existing longitudinal cohort studies, or linking related studies to address key questions through a synergistic approach. This topic will aim to build upon the report of the JPND Action Group in this area as well as referencing the ongoing work of the JPND Working Groups, supported under the 2014 JPND “rapid action” call.

Topic 3: Advanced experimental models of neurodegenerative diseases:

This topic will focus on the encouragement of a next generation of reliable and well characterized animal and cell models for neurodegenerative diseases, building upon the report of the JPND Action Group in this area. This may include the development of novel animal models for specific diseases to better reproduce the complexity of the clinical features of the disease in humans, the enhancement of existing animal models (e.g. by fostering a deeper characterization of the phenotypes and pathologies), and the exploitation of novel (or the improvement of existing) neuronal, neuronal-like cells or inducible pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, generated from different sources.

Please Note: 

  • Proposals are not limited to each topic, and may cover two or more topics.
  • JPND countries may support one, two or three call topics so applicants will need to take this into consideration.
  • Call applicants are encouraged to take advantage of the JPND online partnering tool to showcase their research group’s expertise, search for appropriate partners and pitch call-related ideas. An improved, multi-lingual version of the pilot tool is now available here.
  • All information regarding future JPND Call topics is indicative and subject to change.
  • Final call information will be published on the JPND website.

The JPND diseases are:
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias, Parkinson’s disease (PD) and PD‐related disorders, Prion disease, Motor neurone diseases (MND), Huntington’s disease (HD), Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA), Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)


In a special issue of the Cell Press journal Neuron, experts debated the challenges associated with “translational neuroscience,” and the efforts that should be made to commercialize advances made in the laboratory so that patients can benefit from them.

Despite the major advances that science is making in understanding how the human brain works, several neurodegenerative disorders and psychiatric conditions are on the rise and are becoming more frequent, outpacing diagnostic and treatment approaches.

Dr. Katja Brose, Neuron Editor, explained: “A variety of global impact studies have identified brain disorders as a leading contributor to disabilities and morbidity worldwide with a critical economic, public health, and societal impact (…) There is resounding agreement that we need new approaches and strategies, and there are active efforts, discussion, and experimentation aimed at making the process of therapeutic development more efficient and effective.”

Using data from old clinical trials, two groups of researchers have found a better way to predict how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) progresses in different patients. The winning algorithms—designed by non-ALS experts—outperformed the judgments of a group of ALS clinicians given the same data. The advances could make it easier to test whether new drugs can slow the fatal neurodegenerative disease.

The new work was inspired by the so-called ALS Prediction Prize, a joint effort by the ALS-focused nonprofit Prize4Life and Dialogue for Reverse Engineering Assessments and Methods (DREAM), a computational biology project whose sponsors include IBM and Columbia University. Announced in 2012, the $50,000 award was designed to bring in experts from outside the ALS field to tackle the notoriously unpredictable illness.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) Dementias Research Platform UK (DPUK) is a multi-million pound public-private partnership, developed and led by the MRC, to accelerate progress in, and open up, dementias research. The DPUK’s aims are early detection, improved treatment and ultimately, prevention, of dementias.

The DPUK is creating the world’s largest population study for use in dementias research, bringing together two million participants aged 50 and over, from 22 existing study groups within the UK. Included are people from the general population, people known to be at-risk of developing dementia, and people diagnosed with early-stage dementia.

The DPUK is linking a number of industry partners with a UK-wide network of academic excellence. Six UK and international companies have signed a consortium agreement which will allow shared access to the research resources and the rich and unique data in the DPUK, and to provide a basis for instigating joint studies.

DPUK is being set up for use as a research resource for the entire scientific community. Read more at the link below.