The Human Brain: from Cells to Society

The European Science Foundation (ESF) strategic initiative “The Human Brain: from Cells to Society” aims to enable Europe’s scientific community, in interaction with policy makers, to develop medium to long-term views and an analysis of future research developments with the aim of defining research agendas at national and European level.

As with all our strategic activities, the ESF considers this topic timely to the advancement of science and of high-priority interest to the disciplines involved. The latter is illustrated by the fact that, independently, all five ESF Standing Committees decided to support the initiative: the Standing Committee for the Humanities, the Standing Committee for the Life, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Standing Committee for the Physical and Engineering Sciences, the Standing Committee for the Social Sciences and the European Medical Research Councils.

Harnack-Haus, Berlin

As a first step, a closed meeting taking place on 14-15 December 2011 at the Harnack-Haus, Berlin, marked the scoping phase of this initiative and aimed at identifying the (emerging) research areas/themes under the initiative’s broad umbrella that promise to benefit most from a further look.  The meeting was convened around six key questions, each of which was addressed by the carefully selected discussion group composed of twenty participants who were invited solely on the basis of their international scientific reputation.

The outcome of the meeting is a recently published strategic report that should serve as a scientific validation for the interest in the specific topics/areas identified. In this respect the publication highlights five key opportunities for advancing our understanding of the human brain:

  1. the development of integrated neuro-psychotherapeutic approaches to the treatment of psychiatric disorders;
  2. the development of more valid disease models for research into psychiatric disorders;
  3. an improved understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the relationship between biology and environment;
  4. more comparative and cross-disciplinary studies to explore how scientific concepts relating to the human brain are received and understood in different sociocultural contexts;
  5. research into the legal and ethical implications of recent developments in the brain sciences, including behavioural screening and manipulation, and emerging neurotechnologies.