IMEC Launches Joint Basic Research Initiative to Unravel the Neuronal Circuitry of the Human Brain

IMEC, Europe's leading independent nanoelectronics research center, VIB, Flanders' leading life science institute, and the Leuven University, K.U.Leuven, set up a joint basic research initiative to unravel the neuronal circuitry of the human brain: Neuroelectronics Research Flanders (NERF). Supported by the Flemish Government, NERF will look into fundamental neuroscientific questions through collaborative, interdisciplinary research combining nanoelectronics with neurobiology. It intends to push the boundaries of science, by zooming in on the working of neurons at an unprecedented level of detail. In the long run, NERF will generate new insights in the functional mapping of the brain, as well as research methodologies and technologies for medical applications, i.e. diagnostics and treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system.

NERF will be housed on the IMEC campus where researchers will work in cross-disciplinary teams, benefitting from IMEC's state-of-the-art clean room infrastructure and a new 1,000m2 neurolab. NERF will be organized around teams of top-notch researchers doing world-class basic research. They will be able to work closely together with a wide range of experts from the 3 founding fathers, providing a unique leverage. By 2014, NERF aims to expand its team to about 50 international top-researchers. NERF starts off with a 3 million euro research grant from the Flemish Government for the first 3 years. IMEC, VIB and K.U.Leuven will equally invest in NERF.

“NERF fully leverages and complements IMEC's semiconductor research and infrastructure and that makes it unique in comparison to other neuroscience centers. Today, both neurobiology and nanoelectronics work at the same dimensions. Therefore, it becomes possible to develop nanoscale structures that “listen in” to neural circuits, learn their “language”, actively communicate with them and thus detect pathology at an earlier stage than currently possible,” said Kris Verstreken, director Human++/BioNanoElectronics at IMEC. “NERF researchers will unravel the functioning of the brain and the peripheral nervous system through intensive application of these new tools. This will yield vital knowledge for the pharmaceutical and medical industry and is crucial for the study of pathology such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or even for psychiatric disorders. Advanced therapies are often a serendipitous result of such fundamental research.”

“NERF will focus on basic neurobiological questions, best addressed through an interdisciplinary approach using cell biology, genetics, nanoelectronics and nanoscale engineering. Combining these approaches in one new grassroots initiative is for the time being unique in the world – and quite exciting, as can be seen from the very enthusiastic response of the research community involved worldwide”, says Jo Bury, Managing Director of VIB. “We capitalize on the tremendous opportunity of having the background technologies and approaches available at high excellence level in the research labs of the 3 founding partners of NERF.”

“The link of neurobiology and nanoelectronics with the imaging, data-mining and translational medicine competencies available at K.U.Leuven, makes our partnership unique and highly promising. We are convinced that NERF will become the cornerstone of a vibrant, path breaking community of scientists and engineers. We all look forward to this unique research journey;” says Koenraad Debackere, Managing Director of K.U.Leuven R&D.

NERF will officially take off on October 29, 2009 with a first assembly of the scientific advisory board. On this occasion the founding partners organize a unique neuroelectronics workshop to discuss the research roadmap of NERF with some 50 top world experts in different disciplines of importance to the success of NERF.


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