Q&A: Pierre Magistretti, IBRO Works to Train Young Neuroscientists Around the World
Pierre Magistretti began his three-year term as president of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) in January and formerly served as the secretary-general of IBRO from 2010-2012. He is the dean of the Division of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. He is on leave from his posts as professor at the University of Lausanne Medical School and Hospitals Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience and professor at the Brain Mind Institute of the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland.
NQ: What have you defined as IBRO’s goals during your three-year term as president? Will you be focusing on programs or projects currently underway that can help reach those objectives?
I intend to further strengthen the activities that are central to IBRO and in particular promoting training of young neuroscientists from all over the world. The IBRO training programs span from the early to the more advanced stages. Thus, the Visiting Lecture Training Program is aimed at sensitizing students to neuroscience, sometimes in remote areas of the world. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the IBRO College model, where very talented and well-trained neuroscientists from less favored countries can interact with young faculty from countries where neuroscience is well-established to form collaborative relationships among the future leaders in neuroscience.
IBRO is organized in regions, a feature that ensures a local presence and an in-depth understanding of the specific needs of a region. IBRO has already been quite successful in Africa and South America, and its activities are very well-established in these two regions. As IBRO’s secretary-general from 2010 to 2012, I promoted the development of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region; this effort should continue, but I intend to also further develop IBRO’s activities in high-potential countries such as China and India. I plan to visit these two countries and possibly others in the region in the coming months in order to become more familiar with their needs and expectations and to see how the mission of IBRO can be expanded there.
Supporting education and training are at the core of IBRO’s efforts. Another dimension that IBRO will continue to support is a Return Home Program for well-trained scientists to support local capacity-building in ways that are meaningful for the local needs in less favored regions. Such programs can enhance the privileged connections between countries with established neuroscience programs and those with fewer resources.
Finally, I would like to continue expand the impact of IBRO’s journal, Neuroscience, with its international editorial board and commitment to publishing high-quality work from all world regions.
NQ: This is an exciting time for the field of neuroscience, with the Human Brain Project (HBP) in Europe, the BRAIN Initiative in the U.S., and several additional projects underway in China, Japan, and elsewhere. What short-term and long-term effects do you think these efforts will have on the field?
Overall, I think that these projects will bring a fantastic boost to the knowledge of brain function. I have had the privilege to attend all but one SfN annual meeting since 1980. The expansion, or better, the explosion, of the amount of data that has been gathered over the past 35 years is simply mind-boggling. Yet, we are still a long way from understanding brain function, in particular higher brain functions. There is an urgent need to integrate these data into meaningful models that can be tested against the existing experimental data as well as inspire new, well-targeted experiments. These projects will also stimulate international collaborations. It would be highly desirable that, in particular, the HBP and BRAIN initiatives pave the way to such collaborations as these two projects are highly complementary. We will look with great interest at the new initiatives that China is planning to promote in brain research.
NQ: What do you see as the primary challenges facing the field of neuroscience? How can organizations such as IBRO and SfN address those challenges, and how can individual neuroscientists get involved?
From a scientific point of view, I think bridging the various levels of resolution, from molecules to networks, to understand brain function still represents a major challenge. This integration across scales should be addressed in some of the schools organized by IBRO in order to sensitize students to this challenge. Ethical issues also need to be addressed — notably issues such as the development of deep brain stimulation for neuropsychiatric disorders and the encouraging progress in neuroprosthetics and brain computer interfaces. In general, the debate about realistic ethical frameworks for experimentation in humans should be entertained. Another issue is the alarming withdrawal of the major pharma from neuroscience research. This implies that progress in the development of therapeutic strategies will essentially rely on academic research and the spinoffs thereof. It is therefore of the utmost importance that organizations such as IBRO and SfN engage in advocacy initiatives to sensitize decision-makers to maintain a strong financial support to neuroscience research.
NQ: IBRO is active around the world through its regional committees in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, North America, Europe, and Latin America. How can the neuroscience community effectively combine efforts around the globe to advocate for science?
Global advocacy is a recent and very significant activity for IBRO. In view of its international reach and regional organization, IBRO has been chosen as the coordinator of the Global Advocacy Initiative under the leadership of Sten Grillner, the secretary-general of IBRO. This initiative brings together SfN, the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, the Japanese Neuroscience Society, the Australian Neuroscience Society, the Dana Foundation and the International Society for Neurochemistry to organize and support global advocacy activities worldwide. It is very important that political leaders and decision-makers are sensitized to the importance of brain research, not only for the sake of scientific research but also for the well-being of humankind. Indeed, science provides a universal language that cuts across cultures; the study of the brain and of its functions is at the core of human nature and may therefore be even more impactful in this regard.
I would like to invite neuroscientists from all over the world to the IBRO Congress, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in July 2015. This meeting is different from those taking place in the U.S., Europe and national societies in that it is truly international, with scientists from all over the world, and we should support it as much as we can. The Congress’ excellent International Program Committee has ensured an outstanding scientific program. Learn more at ibro2015.org.