The Coordination Action NEURON started in January 2007 with 12 funding organisations. After five years of project runtime the ERA-Net completed its work in December 2011 integrating 17 funding bodies in the area of disease-related neuroscience from 13 European countries, Israel as EU-associated country, and Canada, participated in NEURON: Austria (FWF), Canada (FRSQ), Finland (AKA), France (ANR, INSERM, CNRS), Germany (PT-DLR/BMBF), Israel (CSO-MOH), Italy (MOH), Luxemburg (FNR), Poland (NCBiR), Romania (ANCS-MEdR, NCPM), Spain (ISCIII, MINECO), Sweden (SRC), United Kingdom (MRC). Another Canadian funding organization, the CIHR, was actively participating as an associated partner in the joint calls for proposals. The report is here.
The first NEURON Project ran from 2007 to 2011 and aimed to promote the development of a European strategy for research by a coordinated implementation of funding programmes in the area of research into brain diseases. The project envisaged creating a group of relevant research funding organisations in Europe and, thereby, to gain maximum added value from investment in this field. The project was organised in five work packages, the descriptions are below. A total of four Joint Transnational Calls (JTC) were implemented, that tackled important topics of disease related neuroscience ranging from the development of new technologies to mental disorders.
Exchange of knowledge about national programmes (WP 1)
Information is collected on the contents of existing and, where possible, future national funding programmes and research priorities in disease-related neuroscience. Thematic or strategic framework conditions for programme development are explored. A documentation of funding portfolios of each partner organisation (and other organisations in the respective countries) will summarize the funding activities at the project level. For this part of the work contacts shall be established to projects dealing with this topic within the thematic priorities of FP6 to seek for synergies wherever possible. An analysis of the collected information shall identify gaps and similarities in national funding programmes in the NEURON area and pave the way for joint calls and other potential programme opening activities. Best practice is crucial for establishment and maintenance of high quality national research funding levels and will therefore be likewise thoroughly documented.
Strategic activities between programmes (WP 2)
The coordination of running programmes and programme opening activities require joint concepts, standards, and agreement about cross cutting issues of programmatic and strategic importance.
Therefore a few specific areas have been identified for programme coordination and joint transnational activities:
- evaluation and programme monitoring strategies
- result exploitation from research into brain diseases, translational research, intellectual property rights, cooperation with industry
- strategies in the funding and programme management of infrastructure for bio resources
- strategies on the career support for young scientists
Relevant activities are the development of mutual agreements, guidelines and concepts for use in common activities such as joint/common calls for proposals. Detailed analyses of programme management practices, programmatic or strategic statements to the above mentioned topics shall reveal similarities, complementarities and differences among the partners' programmes.
The results from this area are anticipated to have an immediate impact for joint calls for proposals. They will also support long-term collaboration beyond ERA-Net funding and thus the sustainability of the network.
Implementation of joint activities (WP 3)
The following joint activities cover different relevant areas:
- Common working groups as discussion fora for programme managers to prepare and implement programme coordination.
- Seminars for programme managers to disseminate results from the evaluation study.
- A joint evaluation system, including a common pool of reviewers.
- An exchange programme and "micro-sabbaticals" for programme managers to enhance their mobility and exchange and raise standards of programme management practices.
- Several foresight activities in order to gain structured input for the development of future health research and neuroscience programmes.
- Cooperation agreements between partners on joint implementation of the concepts on result exploitation, bio resources, and career opportunities.
- Transnational schemes for supervision of academic career steps.
- A joint internet and discussion platform for career opportunities of young investigators. This will have special impact for the future development of a European Research Area. Specific focus shall be laid on the situation of young female scientists and their standing in the research systems.
- Transnational joint calls.
Interaction with the scientific community (WP 4)
These activities use the input from different sources of the scientific community in the NEURON area to improve the quality of national funding programmes.
Within the topic "Thematic input for programmes" foresight activities are addressed for future national programmes as well as for joint multilateral calls for proposals.
Specific issues are - among others - :
- Identification of topics for joint or common calls for proposals.
- Involvement of the scientific community in their role as expert advisors.
- Identification of best possible innovative research.
- Assisting management in critical health situations, e.g the occurrence of new diseases such as prion diseases
Neuroscience and society (WP 5)
It is one of the genuine tasks of funding bodies to inform their societies why a specific area of research is important and what society gains from investing tax payers' money into research funding in this area. It is also a task of the funding organisations to see that ethical requirements are being followed by researchers. Therefore, issues of research and society are integral parts of programme opening activities and part of the NEURON dissemination strategy.
Activities therefore comprise, but are not limited to:
- To build an information bridge between brain research and society
- To increase public knowledge about brain research achievements and acceptance of research funding in the face of national budget constraints
- To enhance public awareness for brain diseases and destigmatise them
- To attract young people to neuroscience