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Translational Neuroscience

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Fundamental basic neuroscience generates new knowledge and drives innovation, increasing our understanding of how the healthy brain and nervous system function. However, there is a clear gap between fundamental neuroscience and the translation of acquired knowledge into therapies that are beneficial to patients in the clinic. The research program ‘Translational Neuroscience’ (TN) aims to bridge that gap by focusing on specific aspects of ageing of the nervous system across the life span. These aspects of ageing include initial development following conception, healthy functioning and neurodegenerative disease.

TN uses state of the art technology within two interconnected areas:

  1. Non-clinical (fundamental) studies - in healthy volunteers and in model systems – to unravel the mechanisms of nervous system characteristics, disorders, biomarkers, pathogenesis, and treatment.
  2. Clinical studies, to provide a foundation for the development and testing of novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for patients with nervous system disorders.


The ultimate goal of the program is to optimize health and a patient’s participation in activities of daily life such as school and work and to improve their quality of life at all stages, including the last stages of neurodegenerative disease.

Mission  

The major requirement for healthy ageing is a healthy brain. But the ageing brain may suffer heavily during the ageing process. TN’s mission is to translate insights from research on age-related brain disorders into clinical (neurological) practice. We focus on age-specific movement disorders, cognitive deterioration and acute damage. TN is able to integrate science from bench to patient by following an integrative approach across multiple disciplines. Research is facilitated by interdisciplinary collaboration and international networks. TN’s research goals are in accordance with current developments in science regarding the emphasis on E-health, home-based diagnostics and healthy ageing/preventive care.

Programme Leaders   Principal Investigators   Description of the Programme  

TN currently comprises two main research lines:

1. Motor control and movement disorders

Within research line 1 several studies investigate motor-related interaction between brain areas such as the parietal, premotor and prefrontal cortical regions in healthy participants. This provides information on how visuomotor functions are embedded in motor circuitry, ranging from basic sensorimotor transformations to free-choice selection. Neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI, fNIRS or PET are employed in these studies. In conjunction with studies on the motor system at whole brain level, behavioral aspects of normal and supranormal motor performance across the life span are also studied using kinematic and muscle measures in controlled and real-life circumstances, and also in virtual reality. The resulting insights into normal cerebral motor control, peripheral aspects of motor functioning, gait, and balance, are applied in studies of patients with movement disorders or motor problems, such as Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, ataxia, tremor, and limb amputees. This allows researchers to extend their understanding of neuropathophysiology and neuroplasticity and aims at providing clinicians with possible targets for treatment. Genetic studies to identify causative genes of rare motor disorders such as dystonia and ataxia are also performed in the context of the program. Technical applications (sensors, computer models and algorithms) to quantify symptoms of movement disorders such as tremor, ataxia or bradykinesia are being developed.

A major part of this research line is related to clinical activities. A nationally recognized Center of Expertise on Rare Movement Disorders at the UMCG provides the clinical inspiration as well as the patients to which the research relates. Research on Parkinson’s disease is strongly linked to busy clinical activities. The clinical Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) program for Parkinson’s disease provides regional services; research on the effects of DBS on dystonia is expanding.

2. Neurological damage: long-term outcome and its determinants

After initial diagnosis and treatment of neurological disease, the long-term neurological and cognitive outcome becomes increasingly important, particularly from the point of view of healthy ageing. Long-term effects of neurological diseases such as traumatic brain injury, cerebrovascular accidents, epilepsy and in particular juvenile epilepsy, preterm birth-related neurological deficits (e.g. cerebral palsy), and the treatment of these conditions have major personal and societal impact. Researchers in TN study such determinants of outcome, with the ultimate aim to improve quality of life. Clinical studies are performed in neonatal, juvenile and elderly patients with (acute) neurological damage, to evaluate long-term outcome and to determine predictors for outcome. Employing this knowledge randomized controlled intervention studies are set up to find out how to optimize both short- and long-term outcome. Studies use imaging methods, neurophysiology, clinimetric measurements of typical and pathological neurological functioning, longitudinal and long-term follow-up observational studies and intervention trials. Again, strong clinical ties enable such studies to be integrated into an extensive stroke service and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) program. Within this research line, age-related cognitive alterations, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are also studied. Predictors for long-term outcome for these highly prevalent and feared ‘ageing brain’ conditions are of particular clinical interest. Within the Alzheimer Research Center (ARC) Groningen, several Alzheimer-related research activities are brought together and focused on both preclinical as well as clinical research topics.

The research interests expressed in TN are: motor control and movement disorders, abnormal neurological development, MCI and dementia, acute neurological damage and neuroimaging.

Relevance to Healthy Ageing  

There is solid accumulated evidence that the conditions present during early life, including in the prenatal period and at birth, have life-long consequences for the health status of the individual. Knowledge about early risk factors for neurodevelopmental and neurological disorders, about the mechanisms of typical and atypical development and about outcome after neurological events and treatment, offers the opportunity for prevention and early intervention in neurological, cognitive, and psychiatric disorders. Typically, these disorders present as chronic for which treatment is only symptomatic, underlining the importance of the development of new interventions to improve efficacy and outcome.

On the other hand, most neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease) are diseases of old age as their incidence and prevalence sharply increase after the age of 60. Any improvement in understanding these diseases, in (early) diagnosis and in treatment, will therefore have a tremendous impact on quality of life and will contribute to increasing the length of our populations’ healthy ageing years.

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