Leading position of NIU in the national neuroscience research
- In 2005, the CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE for Alzheimer’s disease and Related Disorders (AD Centre) was established by the Institute of Neuroimmunology (NIU). The AD Centre designed the first proposal for a PhD programme in neuroscience in Slovakia, which was approved by the Accreditation Committee of the Slovak Government and Ministry of Education.
The role of the AD Centre was to provide a unifying platform for the multidisciplinary and integrated approach in neurosciences and neurodegenerative diseases with main focus on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders (tauopathies). It helped to set up collaborations between institutions by interconnecting basic and applied research, scientists and clinicians, and allowing translation of basic scientific research into clinical practice. As part of the project, the Centre offered service, information and support to the relatives of AD patients mostly via the daily care center Center MEMORY, for elderly people and people with dementia.
- The CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR BRAIN RESEARCH (The BRAIN CENTRE) has been established by the Institute of Neuroimmunology in 2011 as a continuation of the fruitful collaboration within the AD Centre.
The BRAIN CENTRE has focused on three major neuroscience topics:
- neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease)
- neurodevelopmental disorders of the human brain (Asperger syndrome, autism)
- traumatic spinal cord lesions and their treatment
The specific scientific goals of the BRAIN CENTRE were the complex analyses of the brain neuroproteome, identification of the pathological forms of damaged proteins in the human neurodegenerative disorders, the search for novel biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease, following the etiopathogenetic indicators of neurodevelopmental disorders and identification and validation of new regenerative treatments for traumatic spinal cord injuries.
The BRAIN CENTRE involved six members: Institute of Neuroimmunology SAS Bratislava; Institute of Neurobiology SAS, Kosice; Faculty of Medicine of the Commenius University, Bratislava; Jessenius Faculty of Medicine of the Commenius University, Martin; University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy, Kosice; Centre MEMORY, Bratislava.
The BRAIN CENTRE has been fully integrated into the international research area by collaboration with many research organizations.
- The Institute of Neuroimmunology is the official representative of the Slovak republic in the EU Joint programming – Neurodegenerative disease research (JPND), the largest global initiative in neurodegeneration research, where 30 EU countries and 3 non-EU countries are already involved. Joint Programming in Research has been proposed in a communication of the European Commission COM(2008) 468 final, Brussels – Working together to tackle common challenges more effectively. Joint Programming is a unprecedented type of collaborative approach to research, in which countries come together to define a common vision, a strategic research agenda and a management structure, in order to address the ‘grand challenges’ facing the EU society in the coming years. The ultimate goal of JPND is to find cures for neurodegenerative diseases and to enable early diagnosis for early targeted treatments.
- In its initial phase, the implementation of the JPND initiative was supported by the European Commission through the funding of the 4-year project JUMPAHEAD – Coordination Action in support of the implementation of a Joint Programming Initiative for Combating Neurodegenerative Diseases, in particular Alzheimer’s disease (FP7-HEALTH, GA no. 260774, September 2010). NIU was one of the 13 participating members. The JUMPAHEAD project put in place the necessary infrastructures to support this completely new collaborative approach to European health research. The output of JUMPAHEAD included innovative ways of pooling national expertise, resources and the establishment of closer and robust research collaborations among the participating states in neurodegeneration research. JPND has, through its Research Strategy Agenda, analysed the European research and identified common research goals of the joint action to accelerate progress on solutions that can alleviate the symptoms, and lessen the social and economic impact of neurodegerative disorders for patients, families and health care systems. Prof. Michal Novak, director of the Institute of Neuroimmunology, is the coauthor of JPND Strategic Research Agenda and was a member of the presentation board during its launch on Feb 7, 2012 at the EU Commission in Brussels.
- The CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR BRAIN RESEARCH coordinated by NIU has been internationally recognized and became a member (in 2012) of the Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration Research (CoEN). This is a parallel research initiative operating under the umbrella of JPND, which aims to focus expertise within existing investments in recognised biomedical centres of excellence to address some of the immediate barriers to progress and wider collaborative working within these centres. The admission criteria were met so far by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE), the Medical Research Council (MRC), Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB Flanders, Belgium), the Health Research Board (Ireland), the Ministry of Health (Italy) and Centre of Excellence for Brain Research (through the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, Slovakia).
- As part of the Strategic Research Agenda, JPND launched the first prestigious transnational call “Neurodegenerative Diseases – a call for European research projects for the optimisation of biomarkers and harmonisation of their use between clinical centres” on May 13, 2011. The Intitute of Neuroimmunology took part in the project BIOMARKAPD – Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease that was funded within this call by JPND. The project was coordinated by Prof. Bengt Winblad from the Karolinska Institutet Alzheimer Disease Research Centre (Sweden). Dr. Norbert Zilka, a research scientist from the NIU SAS, was the country representative for Slovak republic. The ultimate goal of the project was to standardise the assessment of established and new cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers for AD and PD. The project was successfully accomplished in May 2016, but the collaboration of most of the participants continues under the umbrella of a CSF society.
- On November 1, 2015, JPND began a new concerted support action with Horizon2020 called JPsustaiND – Coordination Action in support of the sustainability and globalisation of the Joint Programming Initiative on Neurodegenerative Diseases. The Institute of Neuroimmunology participates in this action programme along with 13 additional institutions from France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, UK, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Croatia and Romania. The goal of this initiative is to establish a dedicated structure responsible for JPND management and implementation over the long term. By supporting further coordination and integration of national research and innovation programmes with the JPND research strategy, in coherence with Horizon 2020 objectives, JPsustaiND is thus creating a dedicated European Research Area for neurodegenerative diseases.
- In 2015, JPND launched a joint transnational co-funded call in partnership with the European Commission under the ERA-NET Co-fund scheme. One of the projects that were accepted for funding is REfrAME: Pathway complexities of protein misfolding in neurodegenerative diseases: a novel approach to risk evaluation and model development. The project aims to understand the molecular bases of Alzheimer’s disease heterogeneity. The results may offer a major breakthrough in understanding the pathogenesis of degenerative disorders and may lead to the design of more appropriate therapies based on a deeper characterization of the subtypes of these disorders. This poject brought together the leaders in the neurodegeneration research in Europe, including A. Aguzzi (University of Zurich), M. Goedert (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, UK), G. Legname (SISSA, Italy), M. Jucker (DZNE, Germany), G. Di Fede (IRCCS Foundation Carlo Besta Neurological Institute, Italy), J-Y. Li (Lund University, Sweden) and M. Novak (NIU, Slovakia).
- ALCOVE (ALzheimer’s COoperative Valuation in Europe) was a Joint Action, co-financed by the European Commission (in the framework of the Public Health Programme, Grant Agreement N°2010 22 01) and was managed by the Executive Agency for Health and Consumers (EAHC) within the framework of the Community’s 2008-2013 public health programmes. The joint action covered 30 partners from 19 countries (Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the UK) all of which had agreed to work in a collaborative manner at European level. The work packages were focused on identification of the key stakeholders, including national Alzheimer associations. Slovakia was represented by the Institute of Neuroimmunology, and was the leader of the Work package 3 (WP3) – Evaluation of the Joint action.
- The Government of the Slovak Republic appointed the Institute of Neuroimmunology, SAS to the National Scientific Centre under the auspices of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB). The Slovak Republic became the 41st member in this prestigious organization. Currently, ICGEB has over 60 member states. The role of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is to conduct innovative research in life sciences for the benefit of countries involved in the Centre. The Centre is dedicated to advanced research and training programs in molecular biology and biotechnology and pursues the prospect of advancing knowledge and applying the latest techniques in the fields of biomedicine, environmental protection/remediation and biopharmaceuticals production. The ICGEB Board of Governors, after reviewing the scientific output and research infrastructure of the Institute of Neuroimmunology SAS by the Scientific Board, selected the Institute as the Affiliated Centre of the ICGEB in the Slovak Republic. Affiliated Centres are established research institutes in Member States, which are responsible for upholding the high standard of the ICGEB research. The Affiliated Centres (one only per Member State) form an global network by hosting many of the Centre’s training activities and channeling the resources and services of ICGEB to local institutions.
- NGP-NET (Non-globular proteins – from sequence to structure, function and application in molecular physiopathology) is a COST Action BM1405 financed by the European Commission. Non-globular proteins (NGPs) encompass different molecular phenomena that defy the traditional sequence-structure-function paradigm. NGPs include intrinsically disordered regions, tandem repeats, aggregating domains, low-complexity sequences and transmembrane domains. Although growing evidence suggests that NGPs are central to many human diseases, functional annotation is very limited. It was recently estimated that close to 40 of all residues in the human proteome lack functional annotation and many of these are NGPs. This Action aims to create a pan-European scientific network of groups that work on NGPs to strengthen, focus and coordinate research in this field. NIU SAV researcher is from the May 2015 the member of the Management Committee of the COST Action project as one of the representatives of Slovak Republic. Involvement of NIU SAV in NGP-NET allows for the incorporation of the Institute research projects in the field of disordered, non-globular proteins in the neurodegenerative disorders, into the pan-european network of research.
NIU in the international neuroscience research network
To summarize, the Institute of Neuroimmunology SAS has become the LEADER IN ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE RESEARCH in the Slovak national scientific milieu, supported by the strong international collaborations and decision-making. It actively participates in several key European initiatives and projects (JPND, Jumpahead, ALCOVE, REfraAME, JPsustaiND). Importantly, NiU became a member of the prestigious Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration Research CoEN that joins together leading institutions in the field of neurodegenerative disorders.