AMBition paves the path for Neuroscientific Amsterdam
In the greater Amsterdam region four leading neuroscience research organizations have decided to join forces and take up this challenge by forming a joined initiative dubbed under the name Amsterdam Mind and Brain Coalition (AMBition). The kick-off took place on June 28th, 2019, in the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Mind & Brain Coalition, the kick-off of what is to become an annual tradition, demonstrated with a single event how the bonds between the different organs of Neuroscience Amsterdam can be strengthened. With great pleasure we witnessed inspiring talks from the different faces behind Neuroscience Amsterdam. Why are humans able to classify the picture of an animal, where machines have trouble getting through the noise of the image? Prof. Max Welling (UvA), keynote speaker of the program, provided a very stimulating lecture on the ingredients that are necessary for building truly intelligent machines. As the head of the machine learning department at UvA, Max Welling made some interesting predictions of machines more intelligent than humans, that he hopes to build by learning from brain function. He is looking for brain inspired co-development of hardware and deep learning algorithms. The future is closer than we think, but research must be taken to the next level. AMBition strives for a smoother collaboration between the different scientific organs in Amsterdam, so the city can soon become a global example of a healthy and well-oiled system leading to greater results in the different disciplines that make up Neuroscience. Amsterdam has a bright scientific future ahead of it and aspirations will very soon become reality thanks to the great effort brought forward by great minds.
Amsterdam Mind & Brain Coalition originated from a need to collaborate all neuroscience research into a stronger federation. The federation aims to build sustainable bridges between Amsterdam´s top research groups within the field of brain and mind research. Represented by more than 1500 investigators within the field, AMBition is the cooperation between seemingly separate research institutes: VU Amsterdam (VUA), University of Amsterdam (UvA), Amsterdam University Medical Centre (Amsterdam UMC) and Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN, KNAW). The stronger collaborations will further improve scientific quality, add to novel and original research lines and accelerates the translation of fundamental research to the clinic. In the Royal Institute for the Tropics, an extensive program that included lectures and a networking event offered the perfect environment to brainstorm on future collaborations. Different researchers shared their latest findings and openly added to the discussion on how this coalition can be beneficial to their research.
Dr Hanneke Hulst (clinical neuroscientist from Amsterdam UMC) elegantly guides the program by inviting the founders of AMBition, Prof. Arjen Brussaard (Amsterdam UMC) and Prof. Cyriel Pennarts (UvA), to open the discussion on stage. “What is the rationale of founding AMBition?”, asks Hanneke. Arjen: “By establishing such a coalition or federation, we can achieve better cooperation between the four separate research institutes. Whereas neuroscientists focus primarily on the substrate of the brain, cognition & behavioural researchers focus on the behaviour of humans in the context of their environment. While neurologists are mainly looking for brain malfunction, psychiatrists are looking for the biological basis of our consciousness. AMBition brings these different worlds into contact with each other and ensures better positioning, both among scientists, among younger generations and students, but also among the wider public.”
Hanneke: “If you can dream now, what is AMBition in 5 years? Where will we move to after today’s Kick–off meeting?” Arjen: “At this stage we initially focus on a joint branding of the various partner institutions to better put the Amsterdam Neuroscience research in its entirety on the map, inter alia by organizing a joint Scientific Symposium for (and by) all generations of researchers. Also, by establishing a network organization that can play a role in making graduate education accessible, embedding major national, and international grants. Thereby creating an outreach program focused on information, involvement and possible participation from the social field. Finally, we are heading in the direction of stimulation of joint research, made possible by extra central budget for the four partners for innovative research through joint projects, from the CvBs of VU and UvA and the Board of Directors of the future Amsterdam Medical Centre. Depending on the financial contribution, the new partner organization could also independently seek matching from the faculties involved and external stakeholders.”
Dr Frank Jacobs takes over the microphone with a lecture on the genomics of human brain evolution. “So why is this important for humans today?”, he asks himself. “Many well know brain disorder associated genes and loci have recently undergone major genomic rearrangements. So, there is a lot of duplicated DNA in our genome. Such regions are typically associated with recurrent chromosomal structural rearrangements associated with genetic disease. No doubt that these are loci some of you will be working on. As a first step to collaboration within AMBition, I propose to work together to figure out the evolutionary history of these loci and assess how this can inform us on what goes wrong in human diseases.” Next in line are Prof. Serge Dumoulin (IBBA), who enlightens the audience with his latest insights on fMRI research, Prof. Christiaan Keysers (NIN) with his latest findings on the empathic brain, and Dr Natalia Goriounova, who shares her passion for the link between neurons and human cognitive abilities. She is looking for a multidisciplinary and multi-level approach through collaborations with Free University Medical Centre (VUmc), Stichting Epilepsie Instellingen Nederland (SEIN) and international partners. With AMBition she hopes to gain access to post-mortem tissue from the Netherlands Brain Bank and finding collaborations for brain-imaging with layer specific resolution, to reach new levels of her research.
Prof. Claudi Bockting (Amsterdam UMC) recognizes the need for an interdisciplinary approach to fight the increasing number of mental health issues. Claudi: “We have to embrace complexity, and we must connect to other disciplines to address these issues.” She calls this Complexity Science and shows a list of 70 disciplines currently missing in her research. Claudi: “By unravelling complexity we can find new pathways to promote urban mental health.” It is obvious that AMBition is of great aid to her research and she urges the audience to connect. Prof. Merel Kindt (UvA) draws similar conclusions. She is concerned with the understanding of neurobiological and psychological processes of fear and anxiety. Adapting current methods need strong crossovers between different disciplines.
As Prof. Jeroen Geurts (Amsterdam UMC) takes over the microphone we step into the world of Translational Neuroscience. Jeroen: “It is our goal to bridge the gap between theory and practice by stimulating the translation of preclinical knowledge into the development of new therapies.” The research group of Jeroen Geurts has had some breakthroughs for MS (multiple sclerosis) and Alzheimer’s disease. Using MRI data to predict cognitive decline in Multiple Sclerosis for example. However, with their MS research they reached a point of resistance, which moved them to use ‘macro-scale network measures´. According to Jeroen reality is shaped like a multiplex: “We have to connect nodes from different layers, each harbouring different networks of epistemic connections, creating a network of networks that co-fluctuates.” A very abstract way of saying that different disciplines should collaborate to solve the next piece of the puzzle. Finally, he suggests creating a common language out of different neuroscientific disciplines, practices, backgrounds and frameworks.
All in all, the AMBition Kick-off meeting is a promising start of what will become a future full of collaborations, interconnectedness and increased opportunities. The day finishes with a running diner and network event, giving all attendants opportunity to create new collaborations. Amsterdam is going to have improved international visibility as an attractive and inspiring centre for mind and brain research, thanks to the contributions of all researchers who dare to look further than their own desk.
For now, we are very excited to announce the next meeting in 2020, at the Royal Institute for the Tropics, where you will be able to witness the impact of these contributions.