“Understanding the brain is one of the major challenges of modern science”


Interview with JUAN LERMA
Director of the Institute of Neurosciences


“Every seven seconds a dementia is developed somewhere in the world”.


The Institute of Neurosciences (IN) is a centre belonging to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and to the University Miguel Hernández (UMH), created fifteen years ago, and one of the twenty Spanish centres which has won the Severo Ochoa award of Quality. Its Director, Juan Lerma, will deliver one of the lectures to the “100Xciencia” Forum, in which he will give an account of the present and future challenges it faces. In his capacity as a researcher, he says that “Understanding the brain is one of the main challenges of modern science”. This is our own challenge for the present and the future. Of course, on the short term the objectives are focused on understanding specific mechanisms of brain development, neuronal communication, synaptic and circuit plasticity and how the circuits  work. When there is a failure in any of horse mechanisms, appears what we know as diseases of the brain, whether they be degenerative, mental, neuroinflamatory, or of another type.”

As for the future research at the Institute of Neurosciences he explains that “we need to understand which parts of the brain, or which relations between them, break down in order to try to find solutions to the main diseases such as Alzheimer and other dementias, of autism, schizophrenia, depression, and so on. We know well”, he adds “that this is urgent, because diseases of the brain cost more to society than cardiovascular and cancer diseases together”. To highlight this he reminds us that “every seven seconds someone develops a dementia somewhere in the world”.

The Institute of Neurosciences has the Severo Ochoa award, and its director considers that the Severo Ochoa stamp of excellence has been a recognition of the hard work of the researchers of the Institute during recent years to attain a high level of excellence and competitivity. “This injection of enthusiasm and funds (although not that much)” he comments “has allowed us to navigate from the crisis, though in our centre we have not felt it very strongly, and to maintain our hopes for the future”.

The “100XCIENCIA” deals, above all, with the work of communication and popularization of science. In this context, Juan Lerma explains that at the present time research centres are not places that are isolated from society where science is the exclusive concern. “These centres have two complementary roles, which support their main purpose: research. These are training new researchers, and communication plus outreach. It is clearly necessary, also, to carry out another type of activity to supplement those mentioned above. Advocacy, which entails making sure that those who take political decision understand the need for scientific research to solve the problems of society” he notes.

As for the specific research in the Institute of Neurosciences Lerma reminds us that the IN makes an intensive effort to communicate the results and discoveries they make to society. “We do this” he explains “via the communication offices of the CSIC and UMH. We also arrange a monthly visit for schools, and the IN has 'open doors' journeys which coincide with the World Awareness Week, organizing events in Alicante, which are quite popular and well attended. Our members lose no opportunity to argue in favour of science in the different forums at which they represent the Institute, and often give outreach talks to a variety of audiences such as science fairs, schools, cultural associations, etc.”.


Coordination of interviews: Verónica Martín


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100xCIENCIA Communicating Frontier Science. La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), October 2015
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