New Laureates 2020

“The Catalyst Fund is designed to foster innovative research and the development of life-saving treatments for diseases in neuroscience. I offer my sincere congratulations to the six newest laureates at Campus Biotech. Each of these teams is pursuing research in extremely important and potentially high-impact areas of neuroscience and it is a great honour to be able to add extra fuel to the collaborative fire that is driving their vital work. I want to thank the other applicants whom, this time, we unfortunately could not select. It’s a great validation of the vision that we had for the Catalyst Fund that this year, the programme’s third, we had over 40 proposals. An extraordinary number, which together with the fact that every submission was of a very high calibre is further proof that collaborative scientific research in Switzerland is in great health. I also warmly thank EPFL and the Catalyst Fund’s Scientific Committee for their superb work with this important programme.”

Ernesto Bertarelli

“The initiative and generous support of the Bertarelli Foundation to the Catalyst Fund provides a unique opportunity to leverage the outstanding potential of the Lemanic Neurosciences to promote basic research and translational projects in this field. This unique support also injects the potential for innovation and favors the expansion of the scientific horizon of the region by facilitating international collaborations. The task of the Scientific Committee has been very rewarding due to excellent quality of the proposed projects, but at the same time making the selection of the top six successful applications quite challenging. I would like to thank Professors Richard Frackowiak and José Del Millàn and Dr Giampiero De Luca, for their hard work and invaluable input. I would also like to extend my thanks to the EPFL Research Office Team for their superb support in handling the call and selection process. This third call of the Catalyst Fund illustrates once again the fact that the Lemanic Region is the hotbed of one of the top basic and clinical neurosciences ecosystem in Europe. All possible efforts should be made to promote the translation of this excellent science into therapeutic and diagnostic innovations.”

Pierre Magistretti, Chairman of the Catalyst Fund Scientific Committee

Click here for the 2020 laureates announcement

Bloch, Jocelyne – Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)

Courtine, Grégoire – EPFL

Déglon, Nicole – Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)

The adult human brain contains a reservoir of progenitor cells only found in the neocortex of primate species. These cells can be harvested from cortical biopsies, cultivated to produce so-called autologous neural cell ecosystems (ANCEs), and reimplanted into the brain to repair damage. For example, the principal investigators showed that ANCEs survive within host brain tissue where they proliferate into astrocytes and neurons that integrate endogenous neural networks. These grafts mediated functional recovery in nonhuman primate models of stroke and Parkinson’s disease, revealing the therapeutic potential of ANCEs for multiple neurological disorders. This functional recovery combined with the high safety profile of ANCEs convinced regulatory authorities to approve a clinical trial that will test the safety and preliminary efficacy of ANCEs in people with chronic stroke. However, this clinical application of ANCEs contrasts with our limited understanding of their biology. This knowledge is critical to optimize this cell therapy and identify new strategies to augment their efficacy. This project will leverage advances in single-cell technologies to understand the molecular profile of ANCEs, and how this profile evolves following the reimplantation of ANCEs in the vicinity of a stroke. The goal of this project is to leverage this understanding to develop improved treatments for brain repair.

Leggenhager, Bigna – University of Zurich

Blanke, Olaf – EPFL

Bekinschtein, Tristan – University of Cambridge

Chronic pain is a complex phenomenon, shaped by biological and psychosocial factors going beyond mere body damages. This collaboration between UZH, EPFL and the University of Cambridge develops a fully home-based, cost-effective method for assessment, characterisation and prediction of chronic pain. A new portable telemedical tool is designed to combine long-term brain and behavioural measurements with self-reports, all in a virtual platform running on the patient’s device. The principal investigators use the influence of attention on chronic pain and measure, in time, how spontaneous and experimentally induced attention fluctuations modulate pain changes in patients with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. These different measures provide rich and fine-grained information about the time maps of chronic pain and the underlying brain signatures beyond simple pain ratings. These results will facilitate the prediction of pain levels, tailored to each patient’s needs, and will thereby improve chronic pain rehabilitation, management and understanding.

Huber, Daniel – University of Geneva

Prsa, Mario – University of Fribourg

The joy of listening to music or even to a simple melody is one of the fundamental drivers behind human art and culture. This everyday pleasure is, however, not accessible to people with hearing impairments which affect over five percent of the population. Although classical hearing aids have made substantial progress, they still necessitate residual capacities along the auditory pathway and they do not retribute the complete range of the auditory spectrum. On the other hand, as we have all experienced during concerts, a small part of audible sounds, particularly in the lower range, is also transmitted by structure-borne vibrations and thus perceived by mechanoreceptors of the somatosensory system. This project will bring together expertise in sensory processing (Prof. Huber, University of Geneva) and biomedical engineering (Prof. Prsa, University of Fribourg) to explore new ways for transforming the wide frequency spectrum of audible sounds into the range of perceptible substrate vibrations in order to enable the hearing-impaired to enjoy the full spectrum of music. These studies will go hand-in-hand with the design and development of a novel type of portable vibrotactile stimulation device that enhances the range of information perceived by deaf individuals during musical events.

Krack, Paul – University Hospital Bern

Fleury, Vanessa – Geneva University Hospitals (HUG)

Blanke, Olaf – EPFL

Van de Ville, Dimitri – EPFL

 Although Parkinson’s disease is primarily known for its motor symptoms (tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement), it is often accompanied by neuropsychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, a lack of motivation, depression, slowness of thinking and hallucinations. Those neuropsychiatric symptoms sometimes have a greater negative impact on the quality of life of patients than the motor symptoms. This study will investigate the underlying neuronal mechanisms of these neuropsychiatric symptoms by using resting-state fMRI. This new technique shows which areas of the brain interact which each other spontaneously, whilst the person who is lying in the scanner is at rest. In addition, the project will study the effect of dopaminergic Parkinson medication on the neuropsychiatric symptoms and on resting-state brain activity. This collaborative project combines expertise in neuropsychiatry of Parkinson’s disease (Prof. Krack, University Hospital Bern; Dr. Fleury, HUG), in neurorobotics (Prof. Blanke, EPFL), and in brain imaging (Prof. Van De Ville, EPFL). The aim of this study is to identify specific resting-state correlates of individual neuropsychiatric symptoms and their relation to dopaminergic medication. Identifying the underlying brain-networks of neuropsychiatric symptoms in Parkinson’s disease might help to improve their diagnosis and to adjust treatment strategies in the future.

Perren, Fabienne – University of Fribourg

Ryvlin, Philippe – Centre hospitalier universitaire vaudois (CHUV)

Blanke, Olaf – EPFL

Conventional transcranial ultrasound, as routinely used, has a limited use for cerebral vascular imaging and neurological application. Indeed, the skull bone in adults is a barrier to the propagation of ultrasound that strongly degrades imaging resolution resulting in poor imaging. To overcome this limitation, this project will develop and use for the first time transcranial ultrafast ultrasound neuroimaging in human adults. Ultrafast ultrasound imaging is a disruptive technology providing over 10’000 images/sec, whose first proof of concept for neuroimaging of brain vessels has been made very recently in Fabienne Perren’s research group by combining this breakthrough technology with contrast agent. This approach provides super-resolved maps of the brain vessels down to the capillary level (μm-scale). The project will include further technological developments to enable functional imaging of the adult human brain during cognitive tasks, both in healthy volunteers and in persons with epilepsy and cerebrovascular diseases.

Zysset-Burri, Denise – University Hospital Bern

Zinkernagel, Martin – University Hospital Bern

Although dry eye disease is considered to be one of the most common ocular surface diseases worldwide with a prevalence of up to 34%, treatment options are only very limited and severe side effects are common. However, recent studies showed that dry eye disease may be associated with bacteria located in the eye, called ocular microbiome. It has been suggested that bacteria are invasive in the tissue of the eye, thereby effectively hidden from clearance by the local immune system and resulting in chronic inflammation. Many ocular surface diseases are linked to a state of chronic inflammation, which is also a key component of dry eye disease. Since there is a crucial role of both, the ocular microbiome and the immune system, on several eye diseases, the overall aim of this project is to assess the associations of the local immune system and the ocular microbiome in dry eye disease. As the microbiome may be targeted by antibiotics and probiotics, this project may not only result in a better understanding of the disease mechanisms of dry eyes, but it may also have important implications for the prevention of dry eye disease and other immune-mediated diseases.