When the Institute for the Brain (HiFo) was founded 60 years ago, Professor Konrad Akert (1919-2015) recognized the enormity of the challenges facing his team. He emphasized the complexity of the brain and was convinced that scientists needed to find new theories and models to understand the brain.
Sixty years later, researchers at the Institute have made remarkable progress in explaining the function of the brain and neural networks. “Since its founding, the institute has become one of the leading centers for neuroscience in Switzerland and is well known on the international stage,” says director Sebastian Jesberger.
But despite many new insights and discoveries, the puzzle of higher brain functions such as memory is only partially solved. .
He echoes the lab’s founder, citing the “incredible complexity” of the brain, with about 100 billion neurons each capable of forming thousands of connections. “Our brains are incredibly complex as a result of millions of years of evolution.”
But he doesn’t flinch. The sheer complexity is another reason the Institute continues to pursue the kind of experimental brain research it has been dedicated to from the beginning. “We need to analyze neurons at the molecular level and understand how they communicate within networks.” Such an understanding will help develop comprehensive models of the brain and help identify the root causes of neurological disease. It will open up the possibility of identifying and treating.
5 topics, 5 research groups
The Institute hosts five experimental research groups that investigate different aspects of the brain and contribute to a holistic understanding of how the brain functions. are analyzing the intergenerational epigenetic effects of Csaba Földy studies the formation of synapses that connect neurons so that they can exchange signals.
Fritjof Helmchen focuses on the dynamic function of neural networks and how they change during sensory processing and learning processes. Sebastian Jessberger investigates brain plasticity, the formation of new neurons from stem cells in the brain. Theofanis Karayannis studies the early development of the brain and its blueprint during embryogenesis.
The institute is a member of the Zurich Neuroscience Center (ZNZ), which also partners with ETH and several Zurich clinics, enabling researchers to share knowledge and translate their findings into clinical development. . In addition, the Institute is involved in the University Research Priority Program “Adaptive Brain Circuits in Development and Learning” (URPP AdaBD) and the flagship project “Stress” at the University of Zurich (HMZ). Sebastian Jessberger also proudly notes that the Institute has earned seven of his ERC and SNSF alternative grants in the last ten years.
State-of-the-art research methods
One of the laboratory’s hallmarks is its cutting-edge research methods, some of which were developed by the researchers themselves. One such example is two-photon microscopy, which can be used to observe individual brain cells working deep in the brain.
The other is light sheet microscopy, which can image the spatial structure of brain tissue in three dimensions. Studies are also being conducted with experimental organoids from human embryonic stem cells, small neuronal organelles in Petri dishes where neurons are organized into brain-like structures. This broad repertoire of high-tech experimental methods is adapted with one goal in mind: unlocking the mysteries of brain processes.