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Fifth international Systems Biomedicine symposium

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Published on Wednesday, 06 November 2019

On 5 November 2019, the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg hosted its fifth international Systems Biomedicine symposium entitled “Systems Neuroscience: bridging the scales of the brain”.

A multidisciplinary conference to tackle the complexity of the brain

The conference brought together world-wide leading experts from experimental as well as computational neuroscience in an interdisciplinary framework to address the huge complexity of the human brain and to demonstrate how systematic approaches can be used to reveal disease mechanisms. “The conference program focused on the integration of the different biological scales ranging from molecules to cells, neuronal circuits and the whole brain, to generate mechanistic insights of the emergent dynamics of the brain and its association to diverse neuropathologies,” explains Dr. Alexander Skupin, principal investigator at the LCSB and the main organiser of the conference.

The human brain with its 1011  neurons and 1014  connections between them is the by far most complex organ and probably one of the most complex systems in the universe. While neuroscience has focused mainly on the neuronal part of the brain within the last decades, more recently the importance of glia cells that account for more than 50% of the human brain has led to the perspective of the brain being a cellular ecosystem. The conference featured how researchers tackle the complexity of the brain with its different layers using cutting-edge approaches from genetics, electrophysiology, single cell biology, omics technologies, neuroimaging and corresponding data analysis and modelling approaches.

Keynotes talks focusing on the brain network

The two keynote speakers focused on the brain network, also called “the connectome”. Prof. Helmstaedter, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, explained how, using novel electron microscopy techniques and machine-learning data analysis, researchers are now able to map the dense brain network at a larger scale, thereby providing first exciting insights into how neuronal circuits operate in the brain. In the future, Prof. Helmstaedter’s aims to make connectomics a high-throughput screening technique for neuroscience, applicable to the large circuits in the mammalian cerebral cortex.

Closing the conference, Dr. van den Heuvel, Head of the Dutch Conncetome Lab at Vrije University of Amsterdam, discussed general organisational principles of the brain network. He highlighted how connectomes display cost-effective wiring, community structure, and costly connected hubs which may be central for neural integration and communication in our brain. He talked about the role of such network properties in shaping the human brain function, how they may overlap and vary across species and how they may potentially play a central role in the development of human brain disorders. Dr. van den Heuvel concluded his talk by stressing how important it was to start building bridges between the different scales of the brain and working on multi-scale associations.

Networking and poster presentation

During the breaks, fifteen researchers presented their scientific project at the poster session, an opportunity to foster interdisciplinary exchanges. “Networking opportunities are key moments for our scientists to get different perspectives on their research. By exchanging with other scientists from around the world and by create new interdisciplinary collaborations, we put the LCSB on the international scene and address important questions about complex systems like the brain,” concludes Rudi Balling, Director of the LCSB.