The brain and its diseases: it seems that everything “decides” during the first weeks of gestation, when the cerebral cortex and the organ as it will be in adulthood begins to form. Neurons are created during the fetal life of the individual. This is why there is a link between everything that can happen during the early stages of the development of the cerebral cortex of the fetus, and the possible onset of neurological diseases not only characteristic of childhood but also of adulthood. It is precisely in this direction that the research of Dr. Simona Lodato, head of the Laboratory of Neurodevelopment at Humanitas and researcher at Humanitas University, is moving. The laboratory is part of the Humanitas Neuro Center directed by Professor Michela Matteoli, Director of the Institute of Neuroscience of the CNR at Humanitas.
Studies on the nervous system and embryo development
The nervous system still has several aspects to understand and the research continues, to discover mechanisms and links that bring answers to questions and tools for prevention and treatment of diseases. Understanding the influence of what happens during the very first period of formation of the cerebral cortex can provide answers on the onset of disease in adulthood. At the center of the work of Dr. Lodato, head of the Laboratory of Neurodevelopment of Humanitas and researcher at Humanitas University, there are in particular excitatory and inhibitory neurons that are formed during the development of the fetus and that, in the human cerebral cortex, are no longer replaced during adulthood.
“The aim is to understand how what happens in the embryo development phase and the very first period of postnatal life can influence adult life – said Dr. Lodato, recently selected as a member of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence -. The so-called ‘connectomy’ is one of the fields of future exploration. Let’s try to understand how neurons define themselves and how they establish connections between themselves.
Once the brain components are mapped, it is essential to understand how they connect and how they choose their functional partners. An imbalance in these circuits represents the cellular substrate of certain diseases such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism.
Will it be possible to predict certain diseases?
“We are also working to understand what can be done to identify these diseases early, in the hope of identifying biomarkers that will guide us in the prevention and implementation of early therapeutic strategies of many childhood diseases and not only – added the specialist -. Biomarkers are a reality in other fields of biomedicine, but are less available with regard to disorders affecting the brain, a complex organ and still in active exploration, in whose understanding and definition play a key role factors such as plasticity and interpersonal variability”.
A Humanitas researcher in the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence
The FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence (FKNE) is a network of 50 neuroscientists from most European countries, including Dr. Lodato. “The activities in which we are involved have multiple objectives,” says Dr. Lodato: promote scientific exchange within and outside the Network; work in basic and applied research in the field of neuroscience; disseminate correct scientific information in the broad sense, but with particular attention to the development of research in the field of neuroscience; participate in national and European decision-making tables and contribute to the drafting of guidelines on key issues for research and its implementation in various European countries, such as the drafting of new international funding programs for multidisciplinary research and the definition of eligibility criteria for applicants to allow the competitive participation of young researchers. To this end, each member of the Network is responsible for establishing relations with the institutional figures of their country, playing a role similar to that of an expert scientific ‘consultant’ as regards the dissemination of issues related to neuroscience, the promotion of training programs for young people and exchange initiatives between different European countries.