About the event

IBEC’s research experts in different technologies – nanotechnology, biotechnology, cell engineering, information technology and cognitive science – have been working hard for a decade to generate new knowledge and solutions for health, with three major pillars of application in mind: Bioengineering for Future Medicine, Bioengineering for Regenerative Therapies and Bioengineering for Active Ageing. The latter is where IBEC’s advances in minimally invasive sensors, signal treatment, data analysis or robotics are helping develop technologies to cope with the challenges of an ageing population.

In order to strengthen IBEC’s Bioengineering for Active Ageing programme, and in particular its neuroengineering area, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) gained a world-renowned neuroscientist and psychologist with the recruitment in July 2017 of ICREA professor and ERC grantee Paul Verschure and his Synthetic Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems group (SPECS).

To celebrate and introduce this new research group, IBEC is looking forward to welcoming Nobel Laureate Edvard Moser, Founding Director of Trondheim’s Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Centre for Neural Computation, to Barcelona in September. In 2014 he and May-Britt Moser won, together with John O’Keefe, the Nobel Prize in Physiology for their discovery of ‘grid cells’ in the medial entorhinal cortex, a little-understood region next to the hippocampus. These place-modulated neurons are what the brain uses to calculate the position of the organism in its spatial environment, as their firing fields define a triangular array across the entire environment that provides the brain with an internal coordination system – not unlike GPS – that is essential for navigation.

These findings may have enormous implications in brain disorders that affect episodic memory, including dementia and disease, as they pave the way to a better understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying spatial memory, which has been shown to deteriorate in mouse models of Alzheimer’s.

Demographic change and well-being have been identified as major societal challenges to be addressed in the near future. The European population is ageing, which means that the number of European citizens living into old age (70s and beyond) vs. the total population of Europe is increasing. The rapid growth of the oldest age groups will have a major impact on health care costs, for two reasons: 1) The incidence of diseases that affect the elderly in particular will soar in the immediate future; and 2) diseases and events that would have often been fatal become survivable and chronic.

This new paradigm requires the development of new solutions provided by biomedical engineering approaches at research centres such as IBEC. Engineering must play a substantial role to mitigate and manage the effects of this surge in demand for healthcare, and in providing care to be delivered in new ways. It can also open new doors to enable citizens to remain independent and live in their own homes for as long as possible.

In addition to Prof. Moser’s talk, Prof. Verschure will give an overview of how his SPECS group will fit into the research strategy of IBEC. The arrival of SPECS at the institute represents a boost to the neuroengineering research being carried out at the institute and its Bioengineering for Active Ageing programme, and represents a solid drive towards making life science quantitative on any scale by taking full advantage of the unprecedented power of the convergence between nano, bio and ICT (information and communications technology).

Like IBEC, SPECS includes physicists, psychologists, biologists, engineers and computer scientists, and will contribute greatly to IBEC’s clinical translation efforts with its strong collaborations with hospitals on rehabilitation and recovery after stroke, epilepsy and other brain diseases. In addition, it will further strengthen the insitute’s bioinformatics and neuroinformatics capabilities.

The event is supported by EIT Health and the MINECO Network of Excellence “Spanish Health Knowledge and Innovation Community for healthy lifestyle and active aging”. It is part of a series of scientific events organized by the network devoted to stress the importance of ageing as a societal challenge and to highlight different solutions that science and engineering can provide.