Why our Foundation is funding an international collaboration in brain sciences

What could be more important than understanding exactly how the human brain works? Our brains generate the emotions and thoughts that reflect who we are as individuals. Everything we are is created by brain cells firing away and synapses linking together. And yet neuroscience can’t yet fully explain how these parts of the brain work together to create decision-making.

If we could fully understand how and why all the different components in the human brain work together, we would be that much closer to understanding humanity itself. But more than that, scientists are trying to understand how to intervene in the brain to fix problems, make ill people better and improve quality of life for all kinds of health issues.

And this is why I’m fascinated on a personal level by neuroscience and the research projects that are working towards this. As part of this ongoing interest, the Jean Francois & Marie-Laure Foundation of Clermont-Tonnerre (JFMLCT) Foundation looks for exciting and vital projects to fund.

JFMLCT Foundation is funding an international collaboration in brain sciences

Our newest venture is funding the international collaboration between the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour (SWC), UCL, London and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

SWC Director Tom Mrsic-Flogel says: “The funding from the foundation will help us to bring together scientific teams from both institutions, alternating between London and Jerusalem. The pandemic has obviously altered when we can begin to meet in person, but online conferences will be the first step.

“Researchers from ELSC and SWC will initiate projects that are not normally supported by Government agencies – they’re high-risk but high-gain. Specifically, we will be supporting research that will develop a theoretical understanding of the biological mysteries in Neuroscience.

“Both centres focus on understanding how the brain demonstrates cognition through theoretical approaches and experiments. We want to find out how the brain works and how it generates behaviour. As with many science disciplines, we have lots of data but few coherent theories that explain how the system works.”

What will the Foundation’s funding pay for?

Our funding will cover the collaboration between the two institutions so that they can meet and discuss new ideas and hypotheses. We’re excited to be part of this initiative that will help to generate experiments off the back of the theories. By bringing two groups of researchers and scientists together, there will be more minds working on the same challenges. This makes it more likely to find the solution of exactly how the human brain works.

Adds Tom: “It’s necessary to have a strong computational neuroscience component where individual researchers come up with theoretical solutions of how the brain solves problems. Along with this we need an experimental neuroscience team to test these theories. Both institutions are strong in these areas so the interface between the two makes it highly possible that breakthroughs will be achieved. We must generate experiments of the theories to make progress.

“Brain science lacks that big picture of what all of the component parts do and how they come together. We need to know how the brain works before we can intervene in its processes to change anything. When it comes to dealing with addictions and other destructive patterns of behaviour, and diseases of the brain, it’s vital we reach this understanding.”

While each institution is funded by different bodies, the JFMLCT foundation is funding these vital interactions between the groups. We’ll cover various salaries and the logistics of organising the meet-ups which will give the finest neuroscientific researchers the bandwidth and time to discuss theories, devise experiments based on those theories and move forward in one of the most fascinating areas of science.

“Understanding the brain is so complex that we don’t yet have adequate wording to do so,” explains Tom. “While we can quickly explain how the heart or liver works, we just don’t have that insight yet when it comes to the brain. It’s possible that the only way to understand it is through modelling and algorithms. Through this initiative, we want to explain how our brains make the thousands of decisions needed every day.”