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Within the brain

The Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul has set up a research institute into neurological diseases

Michael A.Colicos/ucsdNeurons: fighting degenerative diseasesMichael A.Colicos/ucsd

The south of Brazil is going to have a large institute for research into neurological diseases and their treatment. The Institute of the Brain of the State of Rio Grande do Sul (Inscer) that is linked to the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS) is going to start functioning in 2010 in Porto Alegre. The initial cost of the project will be R$ 35 million, which will be funded by the federal government, the State Health Department of Rio Grande do Sul, the university itself and by private initiative. Inscer will attend patients coming from various areas, with priority being given to the Single Health System (SUS), and will adopt an interdisciplinary approach that will also involve specialists in physics, pharmacy, the biosciences and human sciences.

The institute’s complex will have two buildings covering an area of 6,000 sq m. Structures that already exist in the university hospital and PUC-RS’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences (IPB), will be incorporated into the initiative. Examples of this are the Neurosciences Laboratory and Memory Center, created by neuro-scientist Iván Izquierdo, a pioneer in the study of the neurobiology of memory and learning who retired four years ago from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and went to work at PUC-RS.

According to neurologist, Jaderson da Costa, head of the IPB and the project’s coordinator, the decision to create Inscer was taken for two reasons. “The aging of the population and the consequent increase in the incidence of neuro-degenerative diseases have created a growing demand for medical services and research and we saw that we had a critical mass to supply this need”, he says. But studies are not going to be limited to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and lateral amyotrophic sclerosis. Research into sleep and epilepsy as well as studies into how premature babies are neurologically compromised will also be undertaken at Inscer. “In the case of the prematurely born the idea is to produce studies that will help our understanding of how to prevent brain damage in babies”, he says.

The setting up of Inscer adds to other initiatives that look to stimulate the development of neuroscience in Brazil. According to Jaderson da Costa, the Inscer model is similar to FAPESP’s CInAPCe (Inter-institutional Cooperation for Supporting Research into the Brain) program, which combines advanced research in various branches of neuroscience, with an emphasis on studying epilepsy and the treatment of patients in first-aid posts and hospitals. “One important difference is that we’ll have a single physical structure, while CInAPCe involves a network of various institutions”, says Jaderson. “But our plans include promoting collaboration with other groups in Brazil and abroad”, he says. Last year in Rio Grande do Norte the International Institute of Neurosciences of Natal (IINN), led by Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian professor at Duke University, and the author of pioneering research involving communication between the brain of monkeys and robotic prostheses, began operating.