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New Horizons to understand the "other brain"



Coordinated by Cnr-Isof and funded by the European Community, the Astrotech project will develop innovative technologies to study the behavior of some glial cells in cognitive functions and in various diseases, including depression, epilepsy and tumors. The project network includes beneficiaries and partners from 9 European and non-EU countries, with public research centers, universities and enterprises

Not just neurons. In our brain there are other cells with a key role in cognitive processes. The past four decades demonstrated that non-neuronal cells, called astrocytes are emerging as crucial players for brain function & dysfunction. A major obstacle of previous and current initiatives on Neurotechnologies is a lack of focus on astrocytes fundamental research. The actual tools used to probe and sense astrocytes are derived from those developed to study neurons. 

Astrotech is the European Marie Sk?odowska-Curie Innovative Training Network project that will create and develop the field of Glial Engineering, to provide a consistent range of new technologies to record, study, and manipulate astrocytes in the healthy and diseased brain. The Marie Sk?odowska-Curie Actions are under ‘Excellent science’ pillar of the Horizon 2020 - the largest Eu Commission Research and Innovation program, with a €80 billions of funding over the last 7 years.  Astrotech, will be funded with approx. 4 million euros in the next four years and led by National Research Council (Cnr) - Institute for Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity of the Cnr (Cnr-Isof) of Bologna (Italy) coordinating other 25 among beneficiaries and partners in Eu and around the world.

"Astrocytes are glial cells, the ?other' cell type in our brain than neurons, and have been shown in recent years to be crucial for brain function and dysfunction. In particular, the malfunctioning of astrocytes is the cause of many diseases including epilepsy, stroke, autism, depression and some types of cancer, gliomas" said Valentina Benfenati, Cnr-Isof, senior researcher and Coordinator of the Astrotech project. "The main limit to the knowledge and study of the role of these cells is technological. Indeed, the tools used to study astrocytes derived and adapted from those developed to study neurons; however astrocytes are cells completely different from neurons either in structure and function. Astrotech excellence in science will allow 15 young PhD students to develop new technologies that will help in understanding the role of astrocytes in the healthy and diseased brain". 

“Astrotech will train the next generation of brain scientists with the required skills in the brand new multidisciplinary field of Glial Engineering which includes biomaterials, nanotechnologies, electronic devices, photonics but also optogenetics, neuroscience, glial physiology and biology and computational” continues Luca Maiolo, researcher at the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems of the Cnr (Cnr-Imm) and co-coordinator of the project.

The expected outcome of Astrotech research will provide disruptive knowledges on brain function and will shed a new light tospecific diagnosis and treatments of glioma, ischemia, epilepsy and depression.

Astrotech will provide tremendous improvement in the careers of the fellows pushing their working across all disciplines. The innovative training will also support cross-fertilization between industry and academia and to enhance young researcher employability and career development.
With 11 beneficiaries and 14 partners from 9 European Countries and Us, including public research centers, universities and industrial laboratories, Astrotech will pioneer a training network of unprecedented breadth in terms of multidisciplinary and cutting-edge technologies. Astrotech will rely on strong synergies with potential for long-term structuring effects to create a novel community of scientists capable of conceiving brain function and dysfunction with a more holistic awareness.

Astrotech’s activities reflect research cooperation driven by the technical meetings organized by the bilateral working group on ‘advanced material and smart sensing’ supported through the Italy-Usa Joint Commission on science & Technology Cooperation among the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and U.S. State Department. The basic research results that lead to the project were funded by US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (US-AFOSR, Biophysics Program).

Per informazioni:
Valentina Benfenati

Ufficio stampa:
Cecilia Migali
Ufficio stampa Cnr

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