NEUROPA initiative receives €3.6 million to develop new theranostic for the brain

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IMAGE: The NEUROPA initiative looks to develop a non-invasive means of modulating specific neural pathways in the brain
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Credit: Romanova Natali

  • The NEUROPA initiative targets a transformative progress in photonics, neuroscience and medicine by developing a non-invasive means of modulating specific neural pathways in the brain
  • This research, led by Aston University, is a collaboration between University of Bayreuth. (DE), University of Oulu (Finland), University of Barcelona (Spain), Pharmacoidea (Hungary), Sorbonne University (France) and DLM Consultancy Services Ltd (UK). The project is funded by the European Commission through its Future and Emerging Technology (Open) programme
  • The NEUROPA project is headed by Professor Edik Railov, Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies

The NEUROPA consortium, led by Aston University, has received a prestigious award of €3.6 million in funding from the European Commission as part of its Future and Emerging Technology (FET) scheme. The project aims to develop a non-invasive means of alleviating long-term dysfunction in the brain addressing specific brain disorders such as Huntingdon’s (HD) and cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s (AD).

About the NEUROPA project

The NEUROPA project is pioneering a new field of phytoptogenetics by developing novel phytochromes that can be activated by new compact NIR lasers leading to long-term modulation of targeted neuronal network activity. A core underlying concept is that we will control networks involving sub-cortical structures by activating cortical projecting neurons which are accessible to 2P light control. Developments in viral engineering will enable the targeting of brain phytochrome expression via peripheral exposure rather than direct brain injection. In addition, ongoing development of brain-region and cell-specific gene delivery systems will enable expression in specific cell types i.e. excitatory neurons, inhibitory neurons and glial subtypes in targeted subpopulations within specific brain areas. Our development of diffusing wave spectroscopy-based blood flow detection will enable the monitoring of network activity and hence the interactive control of the photo-switchable phytochromes.

Edik Rafailov, Head of the NEUROPA project and Professor of Photonics, said: “Non-invasive control of dysfunctional neural pathways is a hugely attractive prize to be obtained for medical practice. Currently methods to address brain dysfunction can involve very invasive procedures and our aim to is establish a viable and flexible technology that achieve significant results by shining a laser beam instead. There is an enormous human toll of brain disorders in Europe, with an estimated 83 million people affected. Through NEUROPA we hope to bring a transformative approach to address this great societal and healthcare challenge”.

The NEUROPA project launches in January 2020 and research and innovation activities will be conducted over three years.

About the NEUROPA consortium

Each of the consortium partners have been chosen for the highly specific skills & knowledge that they bring to this project. These include technologies and expertise in NIR lasers, AAV viral vectors, phytoptogenetics, diffusion wave spectroscopy and bio-assays.

Aston University (UK) Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (School of Engineering and Applied Science) is one of the largest photonic groups in UK and an internationally recognised research centre in the fields of lasers, fibre-optics, high-speed optical communications and nonlinear photonic technologies.

Aston Neuroscience Institute (ANI) encompasses interdisciplinary research for the study of developing brains. Members conduct fundamental research that is applied to meaningful questions which impacts upon the wellbeing and success of young people and society.

The University of Bayreuth (Germany) is one of the youngest universities in the country but ranked #4 in Life Sciences. The group involved bring expertise in the expression, purification and handling of phytochrome photoreceptors and ample knowledge of photochemical characterization of sensory photoreceptors.

The Optoelectronics and Measurement Techniques research unit (OPEM) at the University of Oulu (Finland) specializes in medical measurements and development of biomedical instrumentation. Its activity is focused on development of unique and novel measurement methods to be utilised in various medical applications, based especially on optical imaging and monitoring.

The “Pathophysiology and Treatment of the Neurodegenerative Disorders” research group is located at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Institute of Neuroscience of the University of Barcelona . The group is an international reference for the study of Huntington’s disease and other basal ganglia disorders with a broad expertise in molecular and cellular biology, neuronal networks and behavioural studies.

PHARMACOIDEA LTD. was founded in 2006 with the goal to develop special bio-assays and transgenic animal models to be used in “proof of principle” studies in search for the prevention and cure of diseases caused by pathological protein aggregation.

Sorbonne University (France) is the #1 ranked University in France and has a proven track record of designing and applying viral delivery systems, promoters and optogenetics for research investigations and therapy.

DLM Consultancy Services Limited (UK) helps to bridge the gap between the academic and business sectors in supporting collaboration, enterprise, and knowledge-based business development.

About the FET funding

Horizon 2020 aims to ensure Europe produces world-class science by removing barriers to innovation through funding programmes such as the FET. The FET (Open) funds forward-looking collaborations between advanced multidisciplinary science and cutting-edge engineering for radically new future technologies. It is hugely competitive and amongst the toughest in the H2020 suite of schemes.

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