The JPND Scientific Advisory Board’s (SAB) inputs have been instrumental to the shaping of the renewed Research and Innovation Strategy (RIS). JPND talks to SAB Chair Professor Thomas Gasser for more insights into the newly launched publication.
JPND: What are some of the most memorable successes that JPND has achieved to date?
Thomas Gasser: One of the major visible successes of JPND was that it brought together literally hundreds of scientists in Europe who very likely would not have collaborated without the JPND calls, or at least to a much lesser degree. JPND transnational calls have been extremely popular. Only a small minority could get funded, but it can be assumed that the calls sparked collaborations and innovative research approaches even for consortia that did not get directly funded, simply by bringing researchers together.
Looking back at the achievements of the different JPND activities over the past years, it is difficult to single out a specific discovery or success story. The projects funded by transnational calls have resulted in dozens of scientific publications. In accordance with the general strategy of JPND, many of them have focussed on issues that require large collaborative efforts, rather than single-lab projects. In-depth characterisation of disease cohorts and evaluation of biomarkers for example are recurring themes, that will benefit the research community, and thus eventually the patients, far beyond the impact of a specific publication. The harmonisation of standards across JPND member countries, as exemplified by a consensus statement on neuropsychological assessments neurodegenerative diseases published in 2017, or by publications establishing methods for the analysis of longitudinal patient cohorts will also fundamentally advance future research.
JPND: Can you highlight any new/emerging scientific and technological advances in Neurodegenerative Diseases that are crucial for you and covered by the updated Research and Innovation Strategy?
Thomas Gasser: There have been major advances, both scientific and technological, that have shaped the updated RIS. For example, since the first draft of the RIS in 2012, data science, including artificial intelligence-driven methods of data analyses, has transformed many research areas, and this is now reflected in the updated Strategy. Another example is the rapid progress of sequencing technologies. Today, we are increasingly able to analyse genomes, but also transcriptomes as well as the complex world of epigenetic marks including methylomes and the different species of non-coding RNAs on the single cell level.
Another important issue reflected in the new RIS is the increasing awareness that the inclusion of factors like economic and cultural differences, gender issues and public and patient involvement must clearly play a more prominent role.
JPND: What is your view on the value of collaborative research and the common vision/strategy adopted by the 30 JPND member countries to tackle Neurodegenerative Diseases?
Thomas Gasser: Neurodegenerative diseases are a huge and truly global challenge and must be addressed as such. JPND member states can only participate in the effort to tackle the challenges posed by these disorders if they continue to work together. Collaborative research has been will continue to be central to the JPND strategy. This is reflected by the emphasis of JPND on issues like capacity building, education and training, and supportive infrastructure.
JPND: What is your perspective on the challenges that lie ahead for JPND in Neurodegenerative Diseases research?
Thomas Gasser: The scientific advances of recent years have been truly astonishing. However, one of the major lessons learned is that the causes of neurodegenerative diseases are probably even much more complex than we have anticipated. The most transforming progress is probably the integration and analysis of very large data sets, that poses not only scientific challenges, but also regulatory and data privacy issues that need to be solved proactively.