From the Science of Memory to the Future of Neuroengineering
Nobel Laureate Edvard Moser, Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience
Paul F.M.J. Verschure, ICREA, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC)
IBEC’s research experts in different technologies – nanotechnology, biotechnology, cell engineering, information technology and cognitive science – have been working hard for a decade to generate new knowledge and solutions for health, with three major pillars of application in mind: Bioengineering for Future Medicine, Bioengineering for Regenerative Therapies and Bioengineering for Active Ageing. The latter is where IBEC’s advances in minimally invasive sensors, signal treatment, data analysis or robotics are helping develop technologies to cope with the challenges of an ageing population.
To strengthen IBEC’s Bioengineering for Active Ageing programme, and in particular its neuroengineering area, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) gained a world-renowned neuroscientist and psychologist with the recruitment in July 2017 of ICREA professor and ERC grantee Paul Verschure and his Synthetic Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems group (SPECS).
To celebrate and introduce this new research group, IBEC is looking forward to welcoming Nobel Laureate Edvard Moser, Founding Director of Trondheim’s Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Centre for Neural Computation, to Barcelona in September.
At a special event held at Palau Macaya and supported by Obra Social “La Caixa”, which actively collaborates with IBEC in its Active Ageing programme, Prof. Moser will talk about his pioneering work into the basic neural computations that underlie cognition and behavior – research that has completely overturned prior conventional thinking in the field. In 2014 he and May-Britt Moser won, together with John O’Keefe, the Nobel Prize in Physiology for their discovery of ‘grid cells’ in the medial entorhinal cortex, a little-understood region next to the hippocampus. These place-modulated neurons are what the brain uses to calculate the position of the organism in its spatial environment, as their firing fields define a triangular array across the entire environment that provides the brain with an internal coordination system – not unlike GPS – that is essential for navigation.
This findings may have enourmous implications in brain disorders that affect episodic memory, including dementia and disease, as they pave the way to a better understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying spatial memory, which has been shown to deteriorate in mouse models of Alzheimer’s.
In addition to Prof. Moser’s talk, Prof. Verschure will give an overview of how his SPECS group will fit into the research strategy of IBEC. The arrival of SPECS at the institute represents a boost to the neuroengineering research being carried out at the institute and its Bioengineering for Active Ageing programme, and represents a solid drive towards making life science quantitative on any scale by taking full advantage of the unprecedented power of the convergence between nano, bio and ICT (information and communications technology).
Like IBEC, SPECS includes physicists, psychologists, biologists, engineers and computer scientists, and will contribute greatly to IBEC’s clinical translation efforts with its strong collaborations with hospitals on rehabilitation and recovery after stroke, epilepsy and other brain diseases. In addition, it will further strengthen the insitute’s bioinformatics and neuroinformatics capabilities.