Brain organoids arrive in French-speaking Switzerland –

What happens to a PRN once its funding ends? It dissolves, or becomes permanent. This is the second solution that will prevail for PRN Synapsy, at the interface between psychiatry and neurosciences. On Thursday, June 2, at the University of Geneva, it is time to take stock of 12 years of research. Synapsy will become a research center among faculty, located on the Biotechnology Campus. With, as a pilot project, the development of brain organoids.

why does it matter. Synapsy was created in 2010 to better understand the genetic and environmental determinants of major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or autism. It was also about giving psychiatry in French-speaking Switzerland the tools to immerse themselves in the neurosciences and life sciences. From this point of view, the program has enabled a new generation of clinicians and researchers to emerge in the Lake Geneva region.

Twelve years and 700 publications. In 2010, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) launched the third series of National Research Centers (PRN), in eight key areas, from robotics to quantum technologies. Under the impetus of Pierre Magistrate and Dominique Muller, both specialists in cerebral plasticity, the Synapsy Center was established in the Lake Geneva region to modernize the “synaptic mechanisms of mental illness”.

Twelve years later, Synapsy—which spans both sides of the EPFL and the University of Lausanne and Geneva—has about 700 publications to its credit. By organizing a concluding conference on 2 June 2022, the University of Geneva wished to highlight a selection of research projects deemed successful, at the time of the official completion of public funding. for example:

  • Develop tools for early detection of autism, for example on artificial intelligence analysis of videos of social interactions. “These children should be identified as early as possible, to start interventions from the age of 3 if possible,” says psychiatrist and researcher Mary Shire, who is responsible for the research. In the end, the possibility is that you will be able to distinguish between several subtypes of autism, in order to better respond to them.

  • The extension of deep brain stimulation, which began in Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, to mental illness. “Most mental illnesses are much more complex than tremors,” notes Christian Loescher, a neurologist and researcher on these issues. “First, we will focus on the reward circuitry in autism.”

  • Testing drugs that stimulate neurogenesis, to prevent children with schizophrenia from developing their parents’ disorders. Preliminary findings, from research by Stefan Ellis and his teams, suggest that certain antidepressants (SSRIs) have a protective effect on the brain in people at high risk.

Culture change. But Synapsy’s goal was deeper. “We co-founded Synapsy with the idea of ​​introducing neuroscience into psychiatry departments,” explains Pierre Magstreet Heidi News. “It is one of the rare, if not the only, research centers whose core is the development of a medical specialty and related health issues,” notes in its presentation Antoine Geisbuler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Geneva.

Since the post-war period, psychiatry has developed with an emphasis on interaction with the patient and the (assumed) functioning of the psyche. In recent decades, contributions from genetics and neuroscience have brought new air.

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