The noncommunicable disease pandemic

Europe can make an impact in the fight against brain conditions, says Monica di Luca.
Monica di Luca | Photo credit: European Brain Council

One in three people in Europe live with a brain condition — neurological or mental— and it is becoming increasingly clear that this number is an underestimation. With an ageing population and a wide range of challenging disorders with no disease-modifying treatment available to cure them, Europe is falling behind in the race to not only find a cure but also to develop a basic understanding of our most vital organ.


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Medical research is expanding our understanding of the human brain and of the treatments currently available for patients. Scientists are working in labs across Europe to understand the mechanisms behind the diseases, however, manufacturers are facing, on average, 18-year pipelines in producing drugs and devices that can penetrate out central nervous system.

As the world becomes more competitive, steps are needed to help maintain Europe’s global leadership with respect to scientific breakthroughs, research and innovation and treatment development. As we transition from Horizon 2020 (H2020) to Horizon Europe, this presents us with a window of opportunity to make a difference. During this shift, it is essential that funding is uninterrupted and that adequate resources continue to be dedicated to addressing the burdens brain disorders place on society.

It also is crucial that Horizon Europe begins with a robust and appropriate structure for research, particularly through maintained collaboration opportunities and other coordination mechanisms such as a unified and ambitious co-funded brain health partnership. The H2020-funded European Brain Research Area, coordinated by the European Brain Council (EBC), was launched with the aim of identifying research communities active in the field and to provide them with coordination and support.

"Now is the time for Europe to shine and be bold at international level, to join global efforts and make an impact in the brain community"

In parallel, a community-wide strategic reflection has been initiated on the future of brain research within Horizon Europe and beyond, involving key large-scale initiatives that fund brain research in Europe today, including: the Human Brain Project, Neuron, the EU Joint Programme on Neurodegenerative Disease Research, the Innovative Medicines Initiative and other initiatives coordinated by the Commission.

Now is the time for Europe to shine and be bold at international level, to join global efforts and make an impact in the brain community. To this end, we will convene a roundtable meeting on global brain research collaboration, involving relevant actors in the field from across the world at the upcoming neuroscience forum in Glasgow. We are rapidly approaching what can only be described as a state of emergency when it comes to noncommunicable diseases, with brain conditions leading as the highest cause of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Dementia numbers are set to double within the next ten years and the leading cause of years lost due to ill health, disability or early death by 2030 is projected to be unipolar depressive disorders. It is clear we cannot wait much longer to recognise that we have a non-communicable pandemic brewing among us.

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