Europe’s leading voice for research on disorders of the brain: Celebrating a quarter-century at the cutting edge and looking ahead to new advances
In the course of the 25th ECNP Congress leading experts and five and a half thousand psychiatrists, neurologists, neuroscience researchers and public health professionals from over 90 different countries met in Vienna, Austria, to celebrate ECNP´s 25-year anniversary and engage in groundbreaking debate.
Against the background of the increasing burden of disorders of the brain and restrained drug development in this area, the ECNP Congress once again highlighted the key importance of neuroscience for better treatment and prevention. “Crucially, ECNP has initiated new measures and cross-talk between the relevant stakeholders in the field to guarantee that the next 25 years of European neuroscience are just as productive as the last”, said Joseph Zohar, President of ECNP, on the occasion of the 25th ECNP Congress in Vienna.
According to an ECNP landmark study, every year around one third of the EU´s population suffers from one or more mental or neurological disorders. Addressing these issues through improved prevention, treatment and rehabilitation is Europe´s major health care challenge in the 21st century.
Latest advances in understanding and treating disorders of the brain
The ECNP Congress, which is the largest scientific meeting on mental and neurological health in Europe, enjoys an international reputation for its world-class programme consisting of evidence-based treatment as well as clinical and preclinical research issues, covering virtually all disorders of the brain.
On the occasion of its 25th anniversary, the ECNP Congress 2012 offered an enriched programme with new features such as “scientific cafés”, designed as topic-focused gatherings for networking and collaboration, more plenary sessions than ever before, an expanded educational track with interactive sessions, as well as a number of special guests such as keynote lecturer Colin Blakemore from the University of Oxford, UK, one of Europe´s foremost figures in brain science.
The plastic brain: a promising route to novel treatments
In the ECNP keynote lecture on his groundbreaking work on the plasticity of the brain, Professor Blakemore highlighted the revolutionary change in our concept of the brain, which is now seen as the most dynamic, adaptable and plastic organ in the human body. “Aberrant plasticity of the brain is suspected to be at the heart of many symptoms and disorders”, said Blakemore at the 25th ECNP Congress. “Thus utilising and enhancing neuronal plasticity might lead us to new forms of treatment and prevention.”
Neural mechanisms of risk for mental disorders
Another highlight of the 25th ECNP Congress was the presentation of the ECNP Neuropsychopharmacology Award, which recognises innovative and distinguished research achievements in neuropsychopharmacology and closely related disciplines. The joint-winners were Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, Germany, and Paul Harrison, UK, in recognition of their pioneering works in the neural mechanisms of risk for psychiatric disorders and in the pathophysiology and treatment of schizophrenia, respectively.
In his plenary lecture, Professor Meyer-Lindenberg focussed on both genetic and environmental risk factors for mental disorders. “Early detection of abnormalities could provide a chance of primary intervention, with the potential to devise strategies that target these mechanisms even before the illness manifests itself”, said Meyer-Lindenberg.
A webcast summarising the scientific highlights of the 25th ECNP Congress in Vienna including personal commentaries on the state of the field and the Congress’s contribution to cutting-edge research by leading scientists can be viewed on the ECNP homepage.
ECNP: a source of reliable, evidence-based information for the public
The scientific programme of the 25th ECNP Congress was topped off with two press conferences and a panel discussion, which addressed highly topical developments and advances in the field of mental health:
Dr. Paramala Santosh, London, UK, presented the recently initiated, EU-funded Suicidality: Treatment Occurring in Paediatrics (STOP)-project, which was developed to provide suicidality measures and is currently being piloted in children and adolescents to alert clinicians about increased suicide risk and prompt early intervention, especially when new medication is started. Since the majority of youth who have completed suicide had significant psychiatric problems, including depression and substance abuse, evaluation of suicide risk should be carried out regularly as part of suicide prevention programmes. The importance of such programmes is underlined by the fact that mortality from suicide today is the third leading cause of death in the mid-adolescent years.
The panel discussion with Dr. Anna Goudriaan, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Professor Jon Grant, Chicago, USA, revealed that patients with pathological gambling have addictive features also in the anticipation of reward, since they show heightened activity in the reward system of the brain during the expectation of winning. An imbalance between control and motivation is crucial for continued gambling. These new findings provide interesting perspectives for future treatments that are targeted at the neural mechanisms of pathological gambling, whose prevalence rates reach up to 5% of adults in high-risk groups.
Professor Philip Gorwood, Paris, France, highlighted the public health disaster of alcohol dependence, which is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the European Union. Professor Gorwood stressed that understanding alcohol dependence as a brain disorder helps significantly, as it could reflect not only the chronicity of the disorder and diminish the associated culpability, but also provide new insight and therefore treatment approaches. Promising new treatment strategies include not only pharmacological, but also non-pharmacological interventions such as motor rehabilitation, environmental enrichment (positive environmental conditions), and deep brain stimulation (DBS) in severe cases of alcoholism.