Because of its aims, Neuroscience research is so diverse and multidisciplinary, which is all very well but may also be its downside. The federation of Research in Neuroscience at UCL was at first taken care of by the Research Centre of Neuroscience (CRN). It has been managed by a “trio” made up of André Goffinet, Etienne Olivier et Bruno Rossion. This “trio” was elected on the basis of the project to convert the CRN into an effective and well-structured research Centre. It so happened that the structure of a Centre wasn’t able to reach the challenge of Neuroscience and consequently, the setting up of the Institute of Neuroscience (IoNS) has been submitted as part of the UCL’s development plan.
L'Institute of NeuroScience (IoNS) has been officially created in October 2009, following the election of its President, Pr. Jean-Noel Octave.
IoNS is there to stimulate Neuroscience at UCL to encourage the university to take part in the current movement by making cost effective and rationalizing efforts as far as possible. Research is carried out by researchers and not by the structures. Consequently the success of neuroscience at UCL depends on the quality and the motivation of the people involved. Nevertheless, by providing a “fertile” environment and furthering a judicious use of resources, suitable structures will allow researchers to work better. The idea is indeed to reach a critical mass to enhance visibility and to arouse interest in questions that are sometimes so complex they might put young researchers off. Furthermore its aim is to promote exchange between different disciplines, to fund and work closely together on projects .
From a more pragmatic point of view, the main scientific target is to increase the number of publications of the different research groups which belong to the Institute, and, therefore, to put the university at the forefront of scientific research in Neuroscience. A further aim is to encourage the deposit of patents and the setting up of spin offs.
Moreover we strive to encourage the cooperation between research teams, to promote the recruitment of researchers, to contribute to the training of young scientists, and to provide a neurobiological expertise for external partners.
The Institute has to encourage interaction with outside labs, particularly those which are located in LLN and the University hospitals. It should become in the long term the favourite communication channel for interaction in all areas connected to neurosciences, not only at UCL and the Louvain Academy but also for those outside the University. An intersectorial group will be set up to make the integration of “neuroscience system and cognition” research groups at LLN and Woluwe easier.
Without interfering in personal initiatives, the Institute has to play a federative role in fund-raising, particularly for the collaboration projects (ARC, PAI, and EU). It organizes the assessment of the research. Although specific technical tools have been acquired and maintained by the various members and not centralized at the Institute level, the latter has to encourage their rational use. IoNS could assist the research teams by setting up an administrative, logistic and accounting unit. IoNS will further the creation and the participation of technological platforms.
The Institute has to be involved, depending on which topics they are dealing with, and according to a well-defined procedure, in the recruitment of academic and scientific staff. It must endeavour to make administrative procedures easier for PhD students so that they don’t waste their precious time. It must be involved actively in the research for administrative and technical Staff.
The structure of the Institute is proposed by the University as an “integration layer” between research groups, the Board of Sectors and the University. The Institute doesn’t replace the research groups and its function could be summed up as “subsidiary”: it deals with questions which are hard for individual research groups and which require a collaborative approach.
The Institute has to provide an attractive working environment for young scientists and to help to recruit qualified PhD and post Phd students. It has therefore to ensure the visibility of neurosciences at UCL, through the creation of a well-structured and attractive website and the publishing of an activity report. This visibility will ensure it develops a strong partnership with scientific editors, the popular press and the various credit establishments.
The challenge of Neuroscience
As a result of a long biological evolution, the human nervous system is quite simply amazing. It is at the heart of our sensations, our behaviour, our memory, our personality, and of civilizations. We could almost maintain that “we are what our brain is”. Having a better understanding of how the nervous system functions is still a difficult challenge, maybe the ultimate scientific challenge. It’s not only a question of fundamental research.
Medically speaking, neurological and psychiatric illnesses are a growing source of concern and the neuropharmacological developments are substantial.
Economically and operationally speaking, the cerebral process is at the root of our decisions and arouses increasing interest.
Finally, be the human brain at the roots of our civilization, it is also responsible for our potential extinction. The solutions to the global ecological problem which is a threat to us all will be the result of our technology, our imagination and, consequently, of our brain. Understanding how the latter works is all part of this ecological process.
All of these considerations explain the important and growing investments in Neuroscience research worldwide. We hope that our university can take part in this evolution with the means it has.