DFG approves new Transregional Collaborative Research Center for Neuromodulation
Many neurological disorders are associated with impaired movement. Neuromodulation, the targeted electrical stimulation of nerve cells, can help to control altered neuronal network activity. A new Transregional Collaborative Research Center (SFB/Transregio) will now study the nature of the neuromodulation mechanisms which are responsible for a range of conditions. A joint undertaking of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the University Hospital of Würzburg, the new SFB/Transregio (‘Retuning dynamic motor network disorders using neuromodulation’) aims to contribute to the development of innovative treatment strategies for people with currently untreatable movement disorders. Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), this collaborative research project will receive an initial grant of €10 million over four years.
Impaired movement is often a sign of impaired communication between different motor networks in the brain. These ‘motor network disturbances’, which can occur after stroke or brain trauma and in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, can cause severe disruption to everyday life. Neuromodulation offers new treatment options. Using both invasive and non-invasive electrical or magnetic stimulation to influence neuronal network activity, this method is capable of restoring normal brain function. A technique known as deep brain stimulation (DBS), which uses a pacemaker-like device to stimulate the brain, has been used with great success in patients with Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, tremors and other movement disorders. Until now, however, these successes have not been replicated in many other brain disorders.
The aim of the new SFB/Transregio – TRR 295 ‘RETUNE’ – is to find potential neuromodulation targets and identify disease-specific changes for a range of neurological disorders. This collaborative project will see international experts from both basic and clinical research at Charité and the University Hospital of Würzburg work alongside colleagues from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, the University of Potsdam, and the University of Rostock.
“It is our vision to develop neuromodulation methods for use in clinical practice, which can be used in a network-specific manner to treat complex clinical syndromes,” says Prof. Dr. Andrea Kühn, the project’s spokesperson and Head of the Movement Disorders and Neuromodulation Unit at Charité’s Department of Neurology with Experimental Neurology. She adds: “We want to use minimally invasive techniques to selectively target specific network nodes in the brain to suppress altered brain activity.” The planned research will focus on the development of demand-driven pacemaker systems, which are only to be activated when symptoms occur. In order to selectively target disturbances, the researchers plan to decode the characteristic brain signals associated with both normal and impaired movements. They will also study fundamental mechanisms of brain stimulation using models of movement disorders. Clinical and experimental findings will then be used to develop computer models which will be able to predict person-specific, optimized stimulation algorithms.
This research will contribute to an improved understanding of the complex symptoms of various movement disorders and help researchers to develop specific treatments. “Thanks to the coordinated collaboration between internationally renowned experts from basic science, digital medicine and clinical practice – with the aim of rapidly translating research findings into improved treatments – this collaborative undertaking is truly unique,” explains Prof. Dr. Jens Volkmann, Head of the University of Würzburg’s Department of Neurology and co-initiator of the new Transregional Collaborative Research Center (SFB/Transregio). The sites involved in the project will also establish structures needed to support early career Researchers.
Press Release Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Prof. Dr. Andrea Kühn
Spokesperson SFB/Transregio TRR 295
Department of Neurology with Experimental Neurology
Head of the Movement Disorders and Neuromodulation Unit, Member of the Cluster of Exellence NeuroCure
Campus Charité Mitte
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin