Published: 28-01-2012 00:00 | Updated: 08-06-2015 10:57

KI scientists in flagship projects on the mysteries of the brain and graphene

EU's Human Brain Project, which is co-led by Professor Sten Grillner from Karolinska Institutet (KI), is set to receive over a billion euro for neuroscientific research into the workings of the brain. Researchers from KI are also part of the other EU flagship project, The Graphene Flagship, which is being run from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.

The two flagship projects have been selected following a long and highly ambitious application process involving a starting field of six research teams. The grant of over a billion euro each for research into the brain and graphene, respectively, will be distributed over a ten-year period.

"We are overjoyed at the announcement," says Professor Sten Grillner at the Department of Neuroscience and a coordinator of the Human Brain Project (HBP). "The money will enable us to understand how the brain works, from how we perceive our surroundings and control our movements to how we remember what happened yesterday or in our childhood. From this knowledge, we can gain a deeper understanding of the causes of brain diseases and how to diagnose and treat them, which will also lower the cost of public healthcare."

European and international research institutes

The HBP is led by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and engages some 80 European and international research institutes. Accompanying Karolinska Institutet from Sweden are the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), the universities of Uppsala, Stockholm, Umeå and Skövde and Linnaeus University. Researchers, doctors, computer scientists are amongst those who will be gathering all existing information about the brain and building a simulation of a human brain on a powerful computer.

"Brain research is done in a wide range of fields," says Professor Grillner. "One of my jobs in the project is to lead the gathering and organisation of knowledge about the brain into a database to make the information available to this and future research projects."

The technology is not here yet to recreate the entire human brain in a computer, but earlier projects at Karolinska Institutet have simulated individual areas, such as the motor cortex. The hope is that the HBP will lead to technological advances as well.

"The computer will become more advanced during the project," says Professor Grillner. "Moreover, the brain has many properties that we would very much like to apply to technology. For instance, it is very energy economical, and if we can get our technology to be equally economical, it would mean a more sustainable society."

Health effects of the nanomaterial

The other flagship to receive a grant through what the EU describes as the largest award for scientific excellence in history is the Graphene Flagship, which comprises some 120 research groups in 17 countries. The group from KI is led by Professor Bengt Fadeel at the Institute of Environmental Medicine and will focus on the health effects of the nanomaterial. The initiator and head of the graphene project is Jari Kinaret, professor of physics at Chalmers. Professor Sir Andre Geim and Sir Konstantin Novoselov, who were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on graphene, are the projects scientific advisors.

"Graphene is an extremely versatile material, which can lead to many novel technological and medical products", says Professor Bengt Fadeel. "It is therefore important to study the possible health effects of this new nanomaterial."