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Towards understanding the brain: Explained by a Nobel Prize Winner

Written by Geoff Archer, Trainee at the Scientific Foresight Unit.


Twitter Hashtag: #BrainLecture2014
Conference material

How does the human nervous system communicate? How does the brain work? For this year’s Annual Lecture, STOA is delighted to welcome Professor Thomas Christian Südhof, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine 2013 as a keynote speaker.

The event, entitled ‘Towards understanding the brain: Explained by a Nobel Prize Winner’, will take place on November 18, and will be opened by Mairead McGuiness, MEP and Vice-President responsible for STOA.

Thomas Südhof: A life of research

Having grown up in Germany, but then moving to the USA in 1983, Thomas Südhof begin working in the laboratory of two joint-winners of the 1985 Nobel Prize in Medicine for research into the regulation of cholesterol metabolism, Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein. Scientific curiosity encouraged Professor Südhof to switch his focus to neuroscience however, as he explained in a recent interview:

“When I started, nothing was known about synapses, except that they communicated via the release of a chemical transmitter that then was recognized by postsynaptic receptors…it seemed to me that understanding how this works would have tremendous effects on our understanding on how the brain works”.

His work in the field of neuroscience has opened up the discipline and contributed greatly to our knowledge of the human brain, in particular the mechanism of neurotransmission. But where does a Nobel Prize Winner go from here? From his previous comments on the importance of new knowledge, we have a glimpse of Professor Südhof’s scientific philosophy:

“The culture I grew up in put an enormous value on the intrinsic importance of knowledge and truth, and I feel that has become devalued over the last decades. I think that I would be interested in an advocacy role…although there’s much we don’t know, we also must discuss, understand, promote, and ask new questions.”

What can we expect to learn from the event?

Towards understanding the brain: Explained by a Nobel Prize Winner

© RYGER / Shutterstock

• Attendees will have a chance to understand how Professor Südhof’s research may contribute to the advancement of treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism and related disorders.

• It is widely thought that the European Research Area, created to facilitate free movement of European researchers within Europe, needs improvement. Professor Südhof’s experience of working in the USA could provide thought-provoking lessons for Europe as to it could do this.

• The world of medical research has undergone deep changes in the last 30 years, in particular the intensifying of competition for funding. Professor Südhof will have an insight into how the present situation compares with when he began his career in the 1980s.

• Communication between scientists and policy-makers is often fraught with difficulty and this event will provide an opportunity to debate how to encourage better collaboration between the two often disparate communities.

How to get involved

For more information please contact and click here to register.

The discussion will be fully available online via a live webstream and you can join the conversation on Twitter by using #brainlecture2014 to put a question to Professor Südhof yourself.

About Scientific Foresight (STOA)

The Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) carries out interdisciplinary research and provides strategic advice in the field of science and technology options assessment and scientific foresight. It undertakes in-depth studies and organises workshops on developments in these fields, and it hosts the European Science-Media Hub (ESMH), a platform to promote networking, training and knowledge sharing between the EP, the scientific community and the media. All this work is carried out under the guidance of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA), composed of 27 MEPs nominated by 11 EP Committees. The STOA Panel forms an integral part of the structure of the EP.

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