Neuroscience collectively encapsulates all branches of science and technology which aim to understand and interact with brain function. This is not restricted to fundamental neuroscience research using cellular or model systems or brain imaging, but also includes neuropsychiatric genetics, animal behaviour studies, cognitive neuroscience, and clinical neurosciences including psychiatry, neurology, neurosurgery and clinical/behavioural psychology. Clinically, neuroscience addresses conditions such as dementia, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, acquired brain injury (trauma and stroke), learning difficulties, autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. All these areas place a huge burden on the Welsh, as well as global, health services and economy. These challenges will only be addressed with an integrated neuroscience research programme of the type that Wales is well placed to deliver.
Brain disorders present some of the major societal challenges and health care needs. This is critical time where advances in basic neuroscience research can be combined with large clinical cohorts and technology development to address these issues. Wales is now at the beginning of a new period when our knowledge will take a big step forward, and lead to major innovations in health and social care and commercialisation in the next few years and decades. This brings with it the potential of curing some neurological and mental disorders and ameliorating the impact of many others, making it an important area to invest in.
Wales has internationally competitive strength in neuroscience that spans University, NHS and industrial sectors. Particular strengths lie in gene discovery and genomics, neuro imaging, medical technology, eHealth and is emerging in stem cell biology. Key anchor companies in Wales specialise in product manufacture and service provision for ‘big pharma’, including diagnostics, outsourcing of pharmacological testing and stem cell production. These could synergise well with the Universities, NHS-led research and local SMEs to offer robust foundations for the rapid expansion into a world-leading neuroscience research and development (R&D) community.
Early on the Welsh Neuroscience Focus Group identified the need for a more cohesive, collaborative, and country-wide approach to neuroscience research, development and commercialisation. A neuroscience network has been established in North Wales to ensure the development and delivery of high-quality services. Furthermore, the Focus Group identified five areas of high potential where Welsh neuroscience could use additional support, which span basic research, clinical translation and commercialisation. These areas include:
· Genomic Medicine
· Neuronal Stem Cell Biology
· Systems Neurosciences
· Neuroimaging, Neuromodulation, and Medical Technology
· Informatics and eHealth
Furthermore, the continuation of Welsh excellence in neuroscience cannot be achieved without highly skilled people. Technical, research or managerial experience in the areas such as clinical provision, technology development and commercialisation or advanced skills in use of state-of-the-art neuroscience related technologies. The Welsh Neuroscience Focus Group has also recommended a sixth key area highlighting the need to be able to recruit, retain and train these individuals to achieve maximum delivery.
1. A WELSH NEUROSCIENCE NETWORK
A Welsh Neuroscience Network should be tasked to coordinate strategic capacity building, support integration across University, NHS and Industrial sectors within the region and promote Welsh neuroscience on the global stage. Public involvement and support is critical to the success of technology development, its medical and commercial application and for the total Welsh neuroscience research effort. The Network would provide an interface to inform and involve the public from the very beginning.
2. INFORMATICS AND COMPUTATIONAL ANALYSIS
Wales needs to ensure that HPC Wales is fully utilised and integrated into the neuroscience research network, and that there are plans for sustainability and development in the long term. It may be necessary to consider grants and scholarships to individuals and organisations to promote the uptake of training. In addition, a professional network to support, develop and promote best practice may act to enhance integration across sectors and research areas. Finally, Sêr Cymru support could be prioritised to recruit a world-leader in neuro computation or genomics.
3. HIGH THROUGHPUT GENOMIC SEQUENCING
The capacity to carry out cost-effective high throughput sequencing is going to become vital across University research, NHS health services and commercial development. It is not only essential to develop and maintain this capacity for research and diagnostics, it also offers a clear opportunity to develop an information-based commercial regional export, particularly if this is coupled to the informatics and computing capacity described above.
4. NEURONAL STEM CELLS
The ability to differentiate human neurons from stem cells will have a major impact on research, health provision and commercial activity of the future, and research in this area is an emerging strength within Wales. The ultimate success of these high potential medical and life science technologies will require a competitive and supportive environment to maximise research capacity. A key component not present within Wales is a collective stem cell core facility and supply chain. This currently places the region at a competitive disadvantage to other global leaders.
5. ENHANCED CAPACITY FOR TRANSGENIC IN-VIVO RESEARCH
A vital component of basic and preclinical research in University and commercial sectors is the ability to create and study in-vivo systems which model disease states. Recent technology advances have revolutionised our ability to create genetic models. These new approaches will reduce time and cost, whilst increasing sophistication in the types of models. Currently, there is no academic or commercial transgenic provision within Wales, or even the UK, and researchers currently import them from overseas. There is a growing need, and major opportunity, for generation and supply of these new in-vivo models within Wales.
6. SKILLED AND TRAINED WORKFORCE
The development of educational and training courses can provide and maintain the necessary skills and technical knowledge within the Welsh neuroscience sector to enhance the attractive pull of employment in industry, the NHS and universities. The Group propose the creation of a professional body of neuroscientists in Wales (aligned to the Welsh Neuroscience Network) which would develop a supportive community who would offer career development, including mentorship, and be a voice for all neuroscientists. Working with the Life Science Sector Hub, the professional body could monitor and advise on infrastructural and technical skills that are required for provision and competitiveness in technologies, such as PET and other imaging capabilities, informatics and cell-based therapies.