STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Striving to educate the public about scientific innovation in Europe, a group of forward-thinking community leaders formed a new conference that they hope will lead to more money for research.
With more than 1,500 international participants, the first biennial EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2004 kicked off here Wednesday, where the event's chair, Carl Johan Sundberg, runs a venture capital fund. He believes the conference will generate discussion on European policy and collaborations between countries that not only will attract international dollars, but also talented scientists.
"That is, of course, the hope," he said at the opening session.
Many scientists - 20 percent of Nobel laureates from Europe - flee to the U.S. where there is a strong tradition of federal support for research. Europe needs that same tradition, scientific leaders said. They hope the conference will be the nucleus for a grassroots movement that generates a voice for science among citizens, one that translates into government support from politicians. Some said Europe could have a world-leading, knowledge-based economy by 2010 if it could convince taxpayers of the importance of scientific research.
Some countries, such as Sweden, have invested heavily in research, but Thomas stros, the country's minister for education and science, believes the support needs to come from all of Europe, as well. He said the creation of a European Research Council would serve as a good funding method and as a catalyst for competition within the continent.
P r Omling, the director general of the Swedish Research Council, said Europe needs more collaboration between the national research councils in order to avoid duplication of science. By knowing what everybody is doing, venture capitalists can pick and choose the best research throughout Europe.
"They should not just be national monopolies funding science in their own territories," agreed Jean-Patrick Connerade, the president of EuroScience. "They should be opened up" in order to increase competition.
"That's the kind of spirit that we really need if we're going to move forward," he said.
Sundberg, who funds mostly Swedish companies through the Karolinska Investment Fund, said that Europeans need to look at the possibilities of science, instead of the difficulties, and holding the open forum is one way of achieving that goal.
"I think this is long overdue," he said.
The conference, which continues through Saturday, includes 40 exhibitors and 100 sessions discussing everything from who owns the genome to the applications and implications of nanotechnology. The 7-year-old EuroScience organization, which aims to influence science and technology policies in Europe, organized the conference and is planning to hold the next ESOF meeting following the 2006 world soccer championship in Munich, Germany.
On Wednesday, scientists discussed studies on the relevance of gender and nutrition to human disease, as well as the potential of stem cell research.
European Policy Needed For Women With CV Disease
One session led by Karin Schenck-Gustafsson of the Centre of Gender Related Medicine in Sweden touched on the fact that while cardiovascular disease is increasing in women living in Eastern Europe and the U.S., clinical trials in Europe still tend to enroll significantly more men.
"I think in the cardiovascular disease area, a lot of drug studies used to be around 20 percent women," Schenck-Gustafsson said. And women were evaluated only in a subgroup analysis following trials. "That's wrong. It should be powered to make conclusions for both men and women," particularly because they respond differently to treatments.
But women cost more when it comes to research because the measurements of their lipids and hemostasis are affected by menstrual cycles and must be taken at the same time each month. "It's more complicated in women," she said.
In the U.S., policies made in 1992 require that men and women are equally included in clinical trials, but such a policy does not exist in Europe, said Joke Haafkens, a scientist at the University of Amsterdam, who worked earlier this year for the World Health Organization on gender issues in health.
"We do have data, but the translation of the data into complete policy measures is not happening," Haafkens said.
Stem Cells Could Help Depression, Parkinson's
The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm remains one of Europe's top medical universities and has paved the way for stem cell research in recent years. Jonas Frisén discovered in the 1990s that new cells can form in the brain, but only because he looked beyond statements by the founding fathers of neuroscience asserting that nothing can be regenerated.
"This is not true," he said at the opening session of the conference.
Inside the brain, Frisén explained, a hippocampus serves as an area for memory storage and emotion. By regenerating brain cells, scientists might be able to have an affect on Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, among other conditions.
"There are many devastating neurological diseases that are due to the loss of neurons," he said.
One study has shown that taxi drivers in London had larger hippocampuses following training sessions on all of the city's streets, indicating that learning stimulates cell growth in the brain. Depressed patients and people under stress, such as soldiers in combat, tend to have smaller hippocampuses. Effective antidepressants stimulate the production of nerve cells in that same area. "It's absolutely required for the antidepressant effect of these treatments," he said.
In addition to the reduction of stress and an increase in learning, neurogenesis can be boosted with physical activity and a rich environment. Studies have shown that mice that run on a wheel and those that have toys in their cages have more nerve cells than mice that lay stagnant or have no toys.
Notably, Frisén said, California has on the November ballot a vote on whether the state should spend $3 billion for stem cell research.