First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Lauren Comiteau

Amsterdam research centres join forces

The Vrije Universiteit (VU), its University Medical Center (VUmc), the Academic Medical Center (AMC) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have joined forces to bring about breakthroughs in the area of neuroscience. Researchers hope that by studying how the brain functions they will also learn how it malfunctions, allowing early diagnosis and prevention of related disorders. “Our main aim is to improve understanding of the human brain and nervous system in both health and disease,” says Arjen Brussaard, the scientific director of Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam. Understanding healthy function aids development of the wide variety of innovations needed in order to eventually apply these to neurological, neuroimmunological and neuropsychiatric disorders.” “Neuroscience is one of the scientific fields of expertise that Amsterdam excels in,” says Didier Manjoero, programme manager in the city’s Knowledge and Innovation Department. “We do hard science here and we do it well. Amsterdam is a scientific hotspot.” In fact, a recent study by Elsevier Analytical Services concurred that Amsterdam ranks highly in the area of medicine: among the 11 cities under comparison, Amsterdam ranked second and first, respectively, in relative volume and impact of medical research. Specifically, Amsterdam’s relative research impact in clinical neurology is more than 2.5 times the world average. Neuroscience has simultaneously become a high-profile research area and a knowledge industry. Indeed, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam is amongst the largest neuroscience research communities in Europe. The alliance will study the brain, nervous system functioning and disease mechanisms through an “integrative approach from molecule to bedside and vice versa.”

Healthy alliances

With 850 staff in the Amsterdam area and more than 1,200 papers published each year, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam will host nine research programmes, covering for example brain imaging; mood, anxiety and psychosis; and brain mechanisms. Another programme will focus on neurodegenerative disorders, which include some of the century’s biggest health care challenges: Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and Parkinson’s disease. There are more than 250,000 people suffering from dementia in the Netherlands alone, and another 40,000 with Parkinson’s. As the population ages, these numbers are expected to rise, putting a huge strain on the country’s healthcare system. “This poses a direct threat to the sustainability of our entire healthcare system,” say the planners within Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam. “The development of treatments that stop, prevent or at least slow down degenerative processes is crucial to reduce future costs associated with neurodegenerative disorders, and to keep our healthcare system viable.” Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam has also forged business relations with external stakeholders, and gives clinical guidance for intervention trials and research programmes in collaboration with the business sector New technologies and collaborations with, among others, the Amsterdam Dementia Cohort (about 5,000 people) and another group for Parkinson’s will all play a role. To date, treatment for these disorders is limited to the alleviation of symptoms, but Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam hopes that they can prevent full-blown cases by detecting the diseases before they manifest.