At the start of its European Month of the Brain, the European Commission has announced funding of around 150 million euros for 20 new international brain research projects, bringing the total European Union (EU) investment in brain research since 2007 to over 1.9 billion euros. 

During May, the European Month of the Brain initiative will highlight European research and innovation in the area of neuroscience, cognition and related areas throughout over 50 events across Europe, showcasing the latest achievements in the field but also aiming to encourage a more decisive effort to combat brain diseases. It also seeks to highlight how studying the brain can revolutionise computing. 

It is estimated that around 165 million Europeans are likely to experience some form of brain-related diseases during their lifetime. Announcing the initiative, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovative and Science, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, pointed out that treating those affected is already costing Europe 1.5 million euros every minute, and that this burden on healthcare systems is likely to rise as the population ages.

"Brain research could help alleviate the suffering of millions of patients and those that care for them. Unlocking the secrets of how the brain works could also open up a whole new universe of services and products for our economies," the Commissioner added.

As the population ages, with more people being affected by Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative or age-related mental disorders, the costs of treatment are likely to go up sharply, says the Commission. Finding better ways of preventing and treating brains diseases is, therefore, becoming urgent, while understanding how the brain works is also important to keep European economies at the forefront of new information technologies and services.

The 20 projects which have been shortlisted for EU funding are expected to deliver new insights and innovations in key areas such as traumatic brain injury, mental disorders, pain, epilepsy and paediatric conduct disorders. The projects cannot be named before the grant agreements are finally concluded, but all are expected to start from this summer, says the Commission, which goes on to note that industry and small business partners will have a particularly strong involvement in three of the areas - mental disorders, epilepsy and paediatric conduct disorders - to fuel innovation and real-life solutions.

The EU budget has provided more than 1.9 billion euros for brain research since the start of the current Union framework budget for research, FP7 (2007-13), and this has funded 1,268 projects with 1,515 participants from the EU and beyond, says the Commission. There will still be opportunities for brain research under all three pillars - Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges - of Horizon 2020, the next EU research and innovation programme, it notes, while the Health, Demographic Change and Well-being challenge, which will aim to improve the diagnosis, understanding and treatment of diseases, will be particularly relevant.

- Among over 50 events taking place this month as part of the European Month of the Brain initiative will be two major conferences organised by the Commission. The first, in Brussels on May 14, will showcase European projects in the field and outline future scientific challenges, while a conference on European foresight policy for brain research and healthcare will be in Dublin, held jointly with the Irish EU Presidency, on May 27-28.