Q&A: Sten Grillner: Supporting the Work of Neuroscientists Across the Globe
Sten Grillner was recently elected secretary general of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) and has previously served as president of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and chairman on the Nobel Committee. He is a professor at the Karolinska Institute’s Nobel Institute for Neurophysiology in Stockholm, Sweden. Grillner was the co-recipient of the 2008 Kavli Prize and is considered one of the world’s foremost experts in the cellular bases of motor behavior. He is a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Science.
SfN: As the new IBRO secretary-general, what are your priorities for your time in office?
IBRO can be regarded as the glue that aims to keep global neuroscience together. It is the umbrella organization of neuroscience societies and includes no less than 83 members, including SfN, regional societies such as Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and Federation of Neuroscience Societies in Latin America (FALAN), and other societies in all parts of the world. One important aim is to promote collaboration across the globe, not least between neuroscience societies in less privileged countries with fewer resources for neuroscience. IBRO also supports different ways to catalyze interaction. This is of particular importance with regard to training at the PhD and postdoctoral levels. For example, IBRO strives to facilitate this development through interaction between SfN, FENS, and the IBRO regional committees in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
SfN: Can you describe the work of IBRO’s new Global Advocacy Committee? What are its goals and how should individual neuroscientists in diverse countries think about engaging in advocacy?
Neuroscientists need to further explain to society, as well as to different stakeholders, the importance of brain research, not only for understanding the basic principles of how our brain operates, but also for understanding the many devastating diseases of the brain. The costs for diseases of the brain amount to no less than one third of the total costs for health care in Europe and North America.
The IBRO Global Advocacy Committee (GAC) is a joint committee with representation from SfN, FENS, the chairs of the regional committees of IBRO, the Dana Alliance, the International Society of Neurochemistry, and the national societies of Japan and Australia. GAC promises to become an important factor for the promotion of neuroscience in all 83 member organizations. The knowledge and experience of advocacy is well-developed in some countries and practically non-existent in others. The responsibility for promoting neuroscience in each country is almost entirely dependent on local neuroscientists. SfN is a key player in this respect and has developed a strategy. Substantial efforts have gone into developing different aspects of advocacy directed to both the general public and different stakeholders, including policymakers. Advocacy must, of course, be adapted to the political and economic situations in each country. The GAC will provide a strategy for advocacy and provide resources, most likely for regional organizations working with the national societies in Latin America, Africa, Asia/Pacific, the Middle East and Northern Africa, Europe, and North America.
SfN: Public outreach is important to advance the field — it helps build public support that encourages governments to prioritize scientific research and it also creates “brain aware” citizens. What are some of the best ways that organizations like IBRO and SfN can promote neuroscience in the public sphere? What is IBRO doing in this regard?
The promotion of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) in North America, Europe, and many other parts of the world has no doubt contributed to public interest in both the healthy and diseased brain. BAW presentations to children of all ages and lectures for general audiences contribute to public awareness. Another important contribution to facilitate increased knowledge is BrainFacts.org, a public information initiative of SfN, The Kavli Foundation, and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The ability to have accurate information presented in an attractive way through a website is of unsurpassed importance. This is a source of accurate information about the brain and mind for schools, universities, and the interested community in all parts of the world. Promoting knowledge about the brain is a high priority for IBRO. This priority is also reflected in the work of the Global Advocacy Committee, discussed above.
SfN: What are some of IBRO’s highest educational priorities and are there particular successes the neuroscience community should know more about?
All the regional committees, with funding from IBRO, arrange courses for PhD students in different regions. The courses range from basic to advanced techniques, and aim to recruit the most competitive PhD students and postdoctoral trainees from different areas. The committees allow the students to form their own networks. IBRO has also provided support for participation in courses at the Woods Hole science institutions and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
SfN: What are IBRO’s observations about trends in neuroscience around the world? What are the unique regional challenges and opportunities of which neuroscientists should be aware?
Even if the neuroscience scene in North America is currently very competitive, proving to hold challenges for many neuroscientists, the challenges of neuroscientists in other parts of the world are often at an altogether different level. To facilitate the development of neuroscience in, for instance, the Middle East and Northern Africa, IBRO has recently formed a new subregional committee known as Middle East North Africa (MENA). There is an additional possibility and a modest budget to stimulate the interaction between researchers within this general area, and also with the global neuroscience community.