The research at the CoE focused on the molecular and systems-level neurobiological mechanisms based on the effects of trophic factors in brain development, plasticity (learning and memory) and in the pathogenesis and treatment of diseases.
The nervous system has two signalling systems that are engaged in constant interaction. The best-known signalling mechanisms are based on rapid electro-chemical signals, transmitted as electrical nerve impulses in the cells and passing across synapses with the aid of neurotransmitters. The other system is based on growth factors and operates much more slowly. Neuronal growth factors play a key role in all levels of brain activity, from molecules to cognitive processes.
The participating teams had wide and complementary expertise in different fields of molecular and cellular neurobiology, neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, and systems neuroscience. The CoE’s solid, multidisciplinary expertise, clear aims and previous productive cooperation created an excellent environment for research and researcher training. Research focused on some of the greatest challenges in neuroscience.
Scientists at the CoE were particularly interested in the complex and multifaceted interactions among trophic factors, intracellular messenger cascades and ion transport proteins that regulate electrical and chemical signalling in brain cells and in neuronal networks.
Neurotrophic factors play a decisive role in several diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, depression and epilepsy as well as in the actions of medical substances used in the treatment of these diseases.
One of the key aims was to put the research results into practical use in the prevention and treatment of neurogenerative brain diseases (translational research).
New growth factors discovered by the CoE have great potential in the treatment of degenerative neurological diseases. The CoE’s research has already generated numerous patents, patents pending and cooperation agreements with industry and hospitals.
The aim was to create a multidisciplinary CoE of an international standard in the field of integrative and translational neuroscience.
The CoE was headed by Academy Professor Mart Saarma, Director of the Institute of Biotechnology, member of the European Molecular Biology organization (EMBO) and Academician of the Estonian Academy of Sciences. Saarma has received numerous Finnish and international awards for his work.
The CoE was made up of seven internationally recognised research teams, with three participating institutes: the Institute of Biotechnology, the Neuroscience Center and the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Helsinki. The CoE had a staff of 72.