Rewarding research excellence
Two young scientists have received the first ever Excellent Paper in Neuroscience Award, an initiative of the ERA-NET NEURON project (Network for European Funding for Neuroscience Research). NEURON received EUR 2.7 million under the ERA-NET scheme of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to better coordinate national research funding programmes and funding activities in Europe in the field of disease-related neurosciences.
Dr Heidi Nousiainen from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland and Dr Asya Rolls from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel were announced as winners at the Seventh Forum of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in July 2010.
The Excellent Paper in Neuroscience Award acknowledges outstanding scientific publications by young researchers in the field of disease-related neurosciences. Drs Nousiainen and Rolls were selected out of a 2009 nominations list of seven candidates.
NEURON coordinator Dr Marlies Dorlöchter, from Projektträger im Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt in Germany, explained that the achievements of the winners characterises Europe's high standards in neuroscience research. Dr Dorlöchter added that both scientists have contributed significantly to knowledge of the disease and injury of the nervous system, and to the development of new therapies.
Dr Nousiainen won the award for the paper 'Mutations in mRNA export mediator GLE1 result in a fetal motoneuron disease', published in Nature Genetics in 2008. The paper identifies the gene (GLE1) underlying two fatal nervous system diseases (LCCS1 and LAAHD). The study contributes significant new information on the molecular background of fetal motoneuron disease, and on the essential mechanisms for the development, maturation and functioning of motoneurons.
Dr Rolls received the award for the paper 'Two Faces of Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycan in Spinal Cord Repair: A Role in Microglia/Macrophage Activation', published in PLoS (Public Library of Science) in 2008. The study addresses the issue of why the body invests so much energy in scar formation after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) only to inhibit spinal cord repair. Dr Rolls found that the CSPG protein performs a critical role in recovery, and that this role could provide new avenues in the treatment of SCI.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1 billion people suffer from disorders of the central nervous system. Along with the increase in life expectancy (thanks in no small part to modern science and medicine), there has been a considerable increase in the incidence of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. These conditions impact the quality of life of sufferers, as well as their friends and family, and place significant financial pressures on society.
The NEURON ERA-NET is a collaboration between national research funding programmes and funding activities in the field of disease-related neurosciences in Europe (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK) as well as Canada and Israel. Since 2006, it has provided a structure in which members can coordinate their programmes and develop joint strategies for funding neuroscience research.
The ERA-NET scheme, first introduced as a highly innovative component of FP6 (2002-2006), continues to bolster its support to structuring the European Research Area and enhancing the scale of Europe's research efforts under FP7 (2007-2013).