The Challenge of Translational Neuroscience – Interview with Dr. Patrick Aebischer

What’s holding back the implementation of brain research for brain illnesses, and what can be done to change the situation?  Interview with Dr. Patrick Aebischer Professor of Neuroscience at EPFL, and keynote speaker at BrainTech 2017.

The last few years have seen an explosion of exciting new treatments in cardiology and oncology.  Why is this not the case in neuroscience?  Dr. Patrick Aebischer, Professor of Neuroscience at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is focused on opening this bottleneck, and bringing breakthrough BrainTech ideas to fruition.  We interviewed him to get a sneak preview of what he’ll be talking about in his closing keynote presentation at BrainTech 2017:

Dr. Patrick Aebischer

Dr. Patrick Aebischer

“The most innovative breakthrough in neuroscience in the past two decades was the development of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) by Dr. Alim Louis Benabid, and DBS is not really the result of ‘deep science,’” explains Dr. Aebischer.  “Because of the unique challenge presented by the brain, advanced relief from brain diseases can’t result in pills alone.  We need a holistic approach that combines drugs, electrical stimulation, virtual reality….We need to help patients ‘retrain’ their brain, overcome complex realities brought on by stroke, autism, Parkinson’s, and other brain-related illnesses.”

The problem in the BrainTech arena, according to Dr. Aebischer, is that it is segmented.  Pharma, medical devices, information technologies…these different disciplines are working in independent silos, not in sufficient cooperation with one another.

“We need to open the siloes, starting at the level of the research and academic institutions,” says Dr. Aebischer, who has already taken this step at EPFL, by having centers working under the same roof, not departments.  The physical proximity and platform for cooperation has already brought results.

One of the most interesting research directions at EPFL, according to Dr. Aebischer, is the work led by Dr. Olaf Blanke, who has pioneered the joint use of engineering techniques such as robotics and virtual reality with techniques from cognitive neuroscience.  “Using virtual reality he was able to ‘trick’ the brain into rewiring itself.  This is very effective in the rehabilitation of, for example, people suffering from phantom limb syndrome.  The combination of disciplines in what he calls in this case ‘cogno-ceuticals’ brings results that are significantly better then what can be achieved through any one treatment discipline.”

Dr. Aebischer will be discussing translational neuroscience in greater depth in his presentation on “The need to develop a holistic approach to translational neuroscience” at the upcoming BrainTech 2017 conference in March.

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