Dr. Simona Lodato, head of the Laboratory of Neurodevelopment Biology at Humanitas Research Center and researcher at Humanitas University, has been selected as a member of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence (FKNE), a network of 30 prominent neuroscientists at different levels of their independent careers from most European countries.

The Network was established in 2014 in cooperation with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Kavli Foundation. The FKNE aims to strengthen the Neuroscience sector at the European level and beyond, by providing opportunities for young scientists and facilitating dialogue between the scientific world, institutional decision-makers and society. Members of the Network are expected to attend two annual meetings in order to discuss the challenges and frontiers currently offered by Neuroscience.


The objectives of the FKNE

As Dr. Lodato explains, the Network’s objectives are different and ambitious, as well as the activities carried out by its members.

“The activities in which we are involved are based on multiple objectives: to promote scientific exchange within and outside the Network; to work in the fields of basic and applied research in the field of neuroscience; to disseminate correct scientific information in the broad sense, but with particular attention to the development of research in the field of neuroscience; to participate in the decision-making tables at national and European level and to contribute to the drafting of the guidelines with respect to all those fundamental issues for research and its implementation in the various European countries, such as, for example, the drafting of new international funding programmes for multidisciplinary research and the definition of eligibility criteria for applicants so as 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 a technical “consultant” as regards the dissemination of issues related to Neuroscience, the promotion of training programs and exchange initiatives between different European countries,” says the doctor.


Dr. Lodato’s Research Areas

Dr. Lodato is involved in the development of the central nervous system and, in particular, of the cerebral cortex. Her research has led her to study the so-called building blocks of the cortex and to identify their nature during prenatal development, generating a real cellular and molecular map; it is a long and complex work: brain cells are in fact difficult to access and very delicate and die easily outside their environment.

Its attention is particularly focused on neurons: these are formed during fetal development and, in the human cerebral cortex, are no longer replaced during adult life. The research aims to understand how and what happens in embryos in the very first post-natal life, which can influence adult life, also studying the link with the onset of diseases in adulthood such as schizophrenia.

“The so-called connectomy is one of the fields of future exploration. We try to understand how neurons define themselves and how they establish connections between them; once the brain components are mapped, in fact, it is essential to understand how they connect with each other and how they choose their functional partners. We know that an imbalance in these circuits is the cellular substrate of some diseases such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism,” says the neuroscientist.

“We are also working to understand what can be done to identify these diseases early, in the hope of finding biomarkers that can guide us in the prevention and treatment of many childhood diseases. Biomarkers are a concrete reality in other fields of biomedicine, but they are less available with regard to disorders affecting the brain, a complex organ and still in active exploration, in whose understanding and definition factors such as plasticity and interpersonal variability play a role,” continued the doctor.


Basic and translational research

“I think it is essential that basic research and translational research go hand in hand, and this is also one of the central points of the Network of which I am honored to be a part of: knowing the basic mechanisms is important both because it allows us to make progress in understanding the brain and because it helps us in identifying those biological processes or mechanisms susceptible to diseases. The aim is to find the key to understanding those diseases that we do not yet know enough about and for which we do not have effective treatment, in order to improve the quality of life of our patients,” concluded Dr. Lodato.