An EU-funded partnership with multidisciplinary expertise has established a virtual institute that trained during the period 2011-2015 the next generation of scientists in neuroelectronics, a field that integrates advances from (nano)technology with applications in neuroscience. The brain is composed by billions of neurons, which exchange signals with each other by tiny electrical currents and voltages.
Progress in smart materials, nanotechnologies, and neuroelectronic hybrids offers new promising ways to study, repair, and enhance the nervous system. These new research directions could be used for advancing therapies for brain disorders as well as for improving our fundamental understanding of the nervous system function.
Neuroelectronics is now a mature field, capitalising on those progresses with materials and new technologies. Through the EU-funded project NAMASEN (Neuroelectronics and nanotechnology: Towards a multidisciplinary approach for the science and engineering of neuronal networks), project partners established a multidisciplinary virtual institute with expertise in technological, neurobiological, industrial and preclinical research.
The NAMASEN virtual institute offered graduate training programmes that cover fundamental and applied research, at the interface between neurosciences and micro/nanotechnologies. The partners organised six summer schools and training workshops across Europe.
Early-stage researchers and experienced researchers completed their secondment-training at partner institutions, which also included the private sector. In addition, the institute focused on enhancing researchers' soft skills in important areas such as grant proposal writing, ethics, presentation, and networking.
Project researchers met with considerable success in their endeavours, disseminating their results on top scientific journals. They fabricated, tested, and validated novel arrays of substrate microelectrodes and further optimised their surface functionalisation to achieve unprecedented neuronal adhesion and electrical signal transfer.
In parallel, researchers defined quantitative mathematical models that describe neuronal network properties, their activity-dependent (re)wiring and electrical signal transduction by artificial devices.
An important development was the adoption of neuroelectronic technologies for medium-throughput drug screening by the pharma industry. NAMASEN activities led to over 30 publications in peer-reviewed journals as well as 90 contributions to international conferences and meetings.
The NAMASEN network has advanced the careers of participating researchers and will continue its activities even beyond the end of the project. This is reflected in the formation of new academic and industrial collaborations as well as the launching of several Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and Horizon 2020 EU-funded projects. The biomedical sector and the public will ultimately greatly benefit from advances made in neuroprosthetics and drug development.