Collaborative Neuroscience

Brilliant minds think together: how collaboration increases the strength of neuroscience research

This blog post is part of VIB Neuroscience in the spotlight.

VIB is home to three Neuroscience centers (NERF, CMN, and CBD) that each have their specialties in brain research. However, the most impactful research programs require broad expertise beyond a single group's capacity. Enter the Collaborative Science Program.

Prof. Rosa Rademakers, director of the VIB-UAntwerpen Center for Molecular Neurology (CMN), explains: "We started this program to incentivize transformative collaborative science across VIB Neuroscience. By combining the expertise of the different centers and labs, we can carry out innovative research projects."

The Collaborative Science Program aims to stimulate new research ideas and collaborations that extend beyond existing projects. The program was first established at the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research (CBD), but now runs across the three centers. Prof. Patrik Verstreken, director of CBD, explains: "We need to come out of our silos. A single lab wouldn't be able to send a rocket to the moon, and understanding the inner workings of our mind is even more complex."

This year, group leaders had to propose projects involving at least one other group leader from a different lab. Ten research ideas were submitted, all involving group leaders from multiple centers, clearly indicating the need for interdisciplinarity to move neuroscience forward. All group leaders subsequently discussed the projects during a group leader retreat, providing feedback to improve the research plan and creating awareness across all labs. The idea was not to make it a competition: all teams with a strong idea could get started, but obtaining feedback and critique was compulsory. Prof. Sebastian Haesler, director of NERF (empowered by iMEC, KULeuven and VIB), also encourages this: "By proposing and defending these projects in group, we can take advantage of the vast knowledge that is gathered in our centers. We can also anticipate possible collaborations by keeping up to date with each other's research projects."

The group leader retreat where the research ideas for the Collaborative Science Program were proposed.
The group leader retreat where the research ideas for the Collaborative Science Program were proposed.

One of the proposed projects studies hibernating hamsters. While hibernating, they display similar processes in the brain as patients with dementia. The hamsters, however, can reverse this process. Prof. Patrik Verstreken, director of CBD, recently received an ERC Advanced Grant to discover how this happens, with the ultimate hope of using this information to tackle dementia. CBD and NERF have now teamed up through the Collaborative Science Program to take the project one step further. Verstreken explains: "By working with NERF, we combine the know-how of NERF in imaging with our experience in molecular neurobiology and hamsters."

The next step for these joint projects is to use the funding to attract a postdoctoral fellow or acquire a piece of necessary equipment. After a year, the teams will present their progress. "Thanks to the Collaborative Science Program, the teams get the chance to explore ambitious and groundbreaking ideas, some of which might develop into long-lasting interdisciplinary collaborations. We hope that these great ideas will also attract further funding.", says Elja Eskes, who facilitates research collaboration as Head of the Collaborative Research Expertise Unit at CBD. "Our ambition is to continue encouraging interdisciplinary and collaborative research in the coming years."

We look forward to the results!

All group leaders at the retreat.
All group leaders at the retreat.

Learn more

If you want to dive deeper into brain health and disease, explore some of our resources, like our Alzheimer's facts series, or keep an eye out for interesting news and events where our researchers share new insights. We also have plenty of open positions for people eager to join us on our multi-faceted mission to unravel the mysteries of our brain.

 Visit the webpage to find out more about VIB Neuroscience in the spotlight.

India Jane Wise

India Jane Wise

Science Communications Expert, VIB




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