The human brain is an organ of incredible complexity, composed of a hundred billion interconnected nerve cells. However, even with the help of the most powerful supercomputers available, it is currently impossible to simulate the exchange of neuronal signals in networks of this size. Researchers of Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany, RIKEN, Kobe and Wako, Japan, and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden, have made a decisive step towards creating the technology to achieve simulations of brain-scale networks on future supercomputers of the exascale class. Simultaneously, the new algorithm significantly speeds up brain simulations on existing supercomputers.
Dr. Danilo Bzdok (JARA-BRAIN), who holds a professorship for social and affective neuroscience at the Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, was the only German scientist to receive the renowned award for' Rising Star' of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) in the USA.
German Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka paid a visit to University Hospital Aachen on 28 July, making RWTH Aachen University the first stop of her summer tour. As part of her visit, minister Wanka therefore spoke in particular with the young scientists involved in the research alliance. In three separate sessions, the minister learned about current research being conducted.
The Human Brain Project (HBP) is developing a shared European research infrastructure with the aim of examining the organization of the brain using detailed analyses and simulations and thus combating neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The results of a meta-analysis conducted by JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Dr. Thomas Nickl-Jockschat and Dr. Claudia Eickhoff show: A COMT gene variant does not necessarily influence brain performance in people with schizophrenia. Past imaging studies indicated a correlation between this gene defect and brain activity patterns.
Around 800,000 people in Germany suffer from schizophrenia. Nevertheless, this mental illness is not as well researched as depression or dementia. A new, large-scale research project is set to change this. On 12 May 2015 at the specialized clinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy “LVR-Klinik” in Düren, Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Rachel together with representatives of the brain research alliance JARA-BRAIN officially launched the research project “APIC – Antipsychotic-induced structural and functional changes in the brain”. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is providing APIC with funding worth € 4 million.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness which can manifest itself in many different forms. This makes accurate diagnostics even more important: it is the only way for the best possible, individually defined therapies to be selected for each patient. But according to JARA-BRAIN scientist PD Dr. Irene Neuner, there is still some room for improvement: “Around 30 % of therapies are currently ineffective.” TRIMAGE, which the psychiatrist is involved with, will help change this.
A joint meeting of the Search Committees will be held on 10 April 2015 at Forschungszentrum Jülich to discuss the appointment of the future JARA directors. On this occasion, the JARA-BRAIN scientists and candidates for the posts of director Prof. Ute Habel, Prof. Kerstin Konrad, Prof. Frank Schneider, and Prof. Jörg B. Schulz will present the research priorities of the future institutes as well as insights into their own research work.
The acoustic CR neuromodulation method developed by JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Peter Tass is a promising treatment. This method disturbs the synchronous firing of the neurons by using electrical stimulation. Recent research work has now shown that this therapeutic approach can be improved by incorporating sufficiently long pauses between the stimulation of the neurons even if very weak stimulations are used.
At the end of January 2015, this year’s Winter School of the International Research Training Group (IRTG) “Schizophrenia and Autism” took place at the RWTH Aachen University’s guest house. The IRTG is part of the JARA-BRAIN section. Over 50 current and former PhD students from Philadelphia, Jülich, and Aachen took part in presentations and discussions at the three-day event. The Winter School was opened by Sabine Mönkemöller, Programme Director at the German Research Foundation with responsibility for IRTG 1328, and Prof. Dr. Ernst Schmachtenberg, rector of RWTH Aachen University.
In IRTG 1328, PhD students from various disciplines conduct research on scientific issues concerning the psychiatric disorders of schizophrenia and autism. The researchers work in the specialist departments of University Hospital Aachen as well as at Forschungszentrum Jülich and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (USA). IRTG 1328 is currently in its second funding period.
This month, the European research collaboration European Friedreich’s Ataxia Consortium for Translational Studies (EFACTS) published its research findings in The Lancet Neurology. JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Dr. Jörg B. Schulz, director of the Department of Neurology in University Hospital Aachen and spokesperson for the Aachen centre for rare diseases (ZSEA), heads the patient registry and a study on the natural course of the disease. Together with his senior physician Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz (JARA-BRAIN) and an expert team from University Hospital Aachen, he published the data from a prospective cross-sectional study.
Successful translation: the amino acid 18F-fluoroethyl tyrosine (FET), which was developed by JARA-BRAIN scientists, has been licensed for the first time as a radiopharmaceutical agent for the diagnosis of brain diseases in humans by the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products.