According to the World Health Organization, there is ample evidence that pinpoints neurological disorders as one of the greatest threats to public health in the coming years and there are still significant gaps in understanding the etiology and the mechanisms that underlie these diseases.
Research in this field is therefore very active, and new advances in our understanding of the biology and pathology of the nervous system happen every day. Several actors in the BioAlps life science cluster bring a key contribution to unravelling the mysteries surrounding these disorders through state-of-the-art approaches.
There are many fields of application for the neurosciences: medical technology, drugs, surgery, diagnostics and imaging, micro- and nanotechnology, as well as computational modelling. The BioAlps cluster hosts world–renowned specialists in these fields and can be considered a centre of excellence.
Universities offer specialised programmes in neurosciences that attract both Swiss and international students. Geneva University offers a Masters in Neuroscience, jointly run by the Medicine, Science and Psychology and Educational Sciences faculties. Benefri Neuroscience is a convention between the Universities of Bern and Fribourg (later the University of Neuchâtel may participate as well).
Its purpose is the organization of a joint postgraduate programme in neuroscience. The studies lead to a Ph.D. degree under one of the participating faculties. The Universities of Lausanne ad Geneva offer the Lemanic PhD Program in Neuroscience, which organizes students' research and training, both in theoretical and experimental aspects of neuroscience.
Several cutting edge research groups are exploring basic and translational neuroscience, notably to understand the bases of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Lausanne is a centre of excellence in the neurosciences, with three institutions garnering outstanding researchers: the University of Lausanne, the EPFL and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV). The EPFL has set up the Brain Mind Institute (BMI), dedicated to exploring the emergence of higher brain function across multiple levels ranging from gene expression to cognition and covering multiple brain regions including the primary sensory and motor areas, the hippocampus and the limbic system.
The BMI is composed of an international faculty with a target of 18 laboratories and more than 200 researchers. The spectrum of BMI's faculty projects spans across several domains of the neurosciences, including: Molecular Neuroscience, Cellular Neuroscience, Systems Neuroscience, Behavioural Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Computational Neuroscience and, in collaboration with clinical partners, the neurobiological bases of Neurological and Psychiatric diseases.
The BMI laboratories are equipped with state-or-art equipment, techniques and approaches. The Geneva Neuroscience Center groups together more than 50 research groups affiliated to several departments within Geneva University. Members of the centre conduct cutting-edge research in various areas of neuroscience, from physiology and molecular biology to genetics and cognitive sciences, in relation to both health and disease, for human beings (adults and children) as well as for animals.
The University of Lausanne’s Department of Cell Biology and Morphology (DBCM) comprises about 80 scientists in 15 research groups, working mainly on basic and translational neuroscience.
Convergence to integrate man-machine interaction should advance understanding of the human brain and provide practical applications within the next few years. The Idiap Research Institute is an independent, non-profit research foundation specializing in multimedia information management and in multimodal man-machine interaction.
Idiap combines its multi-disciplinary expertise to advance the understanding of human perceptual and cognitive systems, engaging in research on multiple aspects of human-computer interaction with computational artefacts such as natural language understanding and translation, document and text processing, vision and scene analysis, multimodal interaction, computational cognitive systems, and methods for automatically training such systems.
Large pharmaceutical companies, medical technology companies and a number of start-ups ranging from very young and small structures to more mature companies are active in the field of neurology and contribute to BioAlps’ position on the international scene.
DePuy Spine, a Johnson & Johnson medical technology company, is one of the world's leading designers, manufacturers, and suppliers of orthopaedic and neurosurgical devices and supplies. Medtronic, the medical technology company with European headquarters based in Tolochenaz, was the first company to develop neurostimulation through deep brain implants. TRB Chemedica is a medium-sized pharmaceutical company, with a focus on research, development and marketing of innovative niche products in specific therapeutic areas, including rheumatology, ophthalmology and neurology.
Several successful start-up companies are also active in the neuroscience arena. AC-Immune is a leader in Alzheimer´s Disease (AD) drug development, and is developing innovative therapeutics with “best in class” potential against AD and other conformational diseases along three axes: vaccines, antibodies and small molecules. Addex Pharmaceuticals, a start-up that went public in a very successful IPO in 2007, develops allosteric modulators for human health with central nervous system (CNS) disorders as one of its primary focuses.
In particular, Addex is looking at mGluR5 inhibition, which may prove to be a valuable new strategy for treating Parkinson's disease. GeNeuro is focusing primarily on CNS disorders and is currently developing its first therapeutic humanized monoclonal antibodies for multiple sclerosis. The company aims to reach therapeutic advantage over existing drugs by acting specifically upstream the pro-inflammatory de-myelinating cascade. Other companies involved in the neurosciences in the cluster include UCB Farchim, Aleva Neurotherapeutics, Debiopharm and Atheris Laboratories.