Network of Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration (COEN)

iStock_000010353204Small_01_4e66c86881A major obstacle to the advancement of research on neurodegenerative disorders is the relative lack of common standards and mechanisms for validation of potentially important findings in preclinical, clinical and population-based studies. One approach to tackling these large scale challenges is through more effective utilisation of existing large centres and institutes, where the necessary critical mass of resources and expertise already exists. Enhanced collaboration between national Centres of Excellence should also provide opportunity to accelerate progress in understanding the mechanisms of disease as well as the identification of new therapeutic approaches.

To this end, on 10th June 2010, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE, Germany) and the Medical Research Council (MRC, UK) launched a funding initiative to establish such a collaborative approach to research into neurodegenerative disorders, entitled “Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration (COEN – www.coen.org)”. These founding members were joined by VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology), the Health Research Board (HRB), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Ministry of Health Italy (Ministero della Salute, MDS) in October 2010, and the National Institute of Health Carlos III (ISCIII) in 2011 and the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport (MESRS), Slovak Republic in 2012.

The overall aim of the COEN initiative is to build collaborative research activity in neurodegeneration research across borders, focusing on the critical mass and excellence. COEN is aligned with JPND although it operates as an independent entity.

Phase III

The COEN initiative released its third call for proposals in July 2015 aiming to further catalyse collaborative research to drive a step change in neurodegeneration research. The third call was launched by six of the eight COEN members and will again provide funds for ‘Pathfinder’ grants for innovative research to underpin new approaches to therapeutic intervention. As in the previous ‘Pathfinder call’ under Phase II (see below), the remit of the call is broad in scope: projects may include studies to illuminate our understanding of neurodegenerative mechanisms, or create technological advances to support novel diagnostic or therapeutic approaches.

Phase II

The second phase of COEN aimed to further catalyse collaborative research and drive a step change in neurodegeneration research. The second COEN call provided funds for “Pathfinder” grants for innovative approaches to better understand disease mechanisms and provide new avenues for therapeutic development. The intention is that COEN “programme” level support will be made available downstream to take forward successful pathfinders, with industry partnership to be encouraged.

The scientific remit for “Pathfinder” awards is broad in scope, and projects may include studies to illuminate our understanding of neurodegenerative mechanisms, or create technological advances to support novel diagnostic or therapeutic approaches. Connectivity with research in aligned modalities, such as inflammation, sensory neuroscience, vascular or mental health, is encouraged, as is outreach to experts in the fields of physical and computational science.

On July 22nd, 2013, the COEN initiative announced investment in five new innovative “pathfinder” projects constituting innovative and creative proof-of-principle studies which, if successful, will provide a step change in neurodegeneration research.  For more information on the funded proposals, click on the “Results of Second Call” tab on the left hand side of this page.

Phase I

The first phase of the COEN initiative was launched in November 2010 and will run for three years. Each agency has  committed funds to make almost €6 million available to support collaborative, cross-border projects that will address key barriers to progress  in the neurodegenerative diseases field. This is being implemented through a two step process, involving expert workshops to scope the requirements, followed by a call for proposals to establish collaborative teams between PIs within the participating national Centres of Excellence.

The focus of this first call, launched in February 2011, was the establishment of common resources and methodological approaches to underpin future studies. Some of the key issues to be addressed will be:

  • the refinement and validation of cellular and animal  models of disease
  • the development of novel measures to define patient subgroups for clinical studies
  • the identification of new biomarkers to support translational research
  • the development and harmonisation  of cognitive test batteries for diagnosis and monitoring disease progression
  • the establishment of common informatics platforms to enhance data analysis and exchange

On Sep 2nd, 2011, the COEN initiative announced investment in eight exciting new international research projects which will address these key issues in neurodegenerative disease research. For more information on the funded proposals, click on the “Results of First Funding Call” tab on the left hand side of this page.

More information on the initiative is available at www.coen.org or at the tabs on the left hand side of this page.

Members of International Network of Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration

  • Medical Research Council, UK *
  • DZNE, Deutsches Zentrum fur Neurodegenerative Erkankungen, Helmholtz Association Germany *
  • Canadian Institute of Health Research *
  • VIB, Flanders Belgium
  • Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland
  • Italian Ministry of Health
  • The National Institute of Health ”Carlos III”, Spain
  • Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport (MESRS), Slovak Republic

* founding member of COEN