Brain Research Needs To Be Better Supported, Experts Say

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by Isaura Santos |

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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.”

One paper notes that there are limited venues that bring stakeholders together to address the future challenges of treating neurodegenerative diseases. A recent workshop assembled together leaders from industry, government, academia, and nonprofit agencies to discuss challenges and obstacles to overcome in order to create effective treatments for the several brain disorders that are in need. The results of the meeting were presented by Steve Hyman and his colleagues at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “To ensure continued advances in brain science, partnerships between government, industry, and academic scientists are needed,” he said.

Another recent study reflected on a new trend among several large pharmaceutical companies that are downsizing their research divisions that were dedicated to neuroscience because they are arguing that developing drugs to treat brain diseases is too difficult, time consuming, and expensive compared to developing drugs for other diseases. Dr. Dennis Choi, of SUNY Stony Brook, and his colleagues suggest that policies that regulate the market might have to be changed: “The broader neuroscience community and patient stakeholders should advocate for the crafting and implementation of these policy changes (…) Scientific and patient group activism has been successful in keeping the development of therapies in other areas—such as HIV and cancer—appropriately on track, but this type of sector-wide activism would be a novel step for the neuroscience community,” as noted in a press release.

Although treating the human brain is a difficult subject, significant progress has been made in the field, as Dr. Reisa Sperlin, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School points out in a paper examining the amount of research regarding several protein markers associated with neurodegeneration and higher risks of Alzheimer’s disease. “This paper highlights the remarkable advances in our ability to detect evidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, prior to clinical symptoms of the disease, and to predict those at greatest risk for cognitive decline (…) These new findings have implications for ongoing and future clinical trials aimed at preventing memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Reisa Sperling said

If efforts continue to be made, if significant funding is provided, and robust collaborations support research into Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases, the effort will eventually lead to preventive approaches that could reduce memory loss and other serious symptoms that occur as a result of brain diseases.