Do dyslectic children have a slightly different brain structure than their colleagues? What chemical reactions cause the immune system to support the development of malignant brain tumours? Why are certain events etched so firmly in our memories? The scientists of the newly opened Neurobiology Centre at the Nencki Institute in Warsaw, Poland, can already answer these questions.
The Neurobiology Centre of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw, officially opened in mid-November last year, can pride itself on its first research results and scientific publications. The studies that were conducted pertained to, amongst others, dyslexia in children, pain perception, memory mechanisms and chemical signalling pathways used by malignant brain tumours to reprogram human immune cells.
Neurobiology Centre of the Nencki Institute (NCNI) is a part of the CePT European key project (Centre for Preclinical Research and Technology). The cost of NCNI construction was 52 million PLN (15% of the entire CePT project). As part of this, around 30 million PLN were earmarked for equipment acquisition and 15 million for the enlargement of two wings of the Institute. The construction of the Neurobiology Centre has enabled the Nencki Institute assume a leading role in prestigious European projects such as Euro-BioImaging from the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).
The Neurobiology Centre currently houses five core facility laboratories: Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, Laboratory of Animal Models, Laboratory of Brain Imaging, Laboratory of Tissue Structure and Function Imaging and the Laboratory of High-Standard Preclinical Research. The laboratories are equipped with the newest research equipment, including an MRI scanner – the only one in Poland exclusively dedicated to research.
“The official opening of the Neurobiology Centre took place in mid-November. However, the institution of such a huge set of scientific laboratories is a process that stretches over time and began much, much earlier. In reality, many of our scientists have devoted entire months and even years of work to the Centre. It is thanks to this that we may now speak about our first scientific achievements”, says Marcin Ciuk, the head of the NCNI.
Based on the use of an MRI scanner, the Neurobiology Centre is continuing research into the link between dysnomia or attention deficits and the anatomic features of certain brain structures in dyslexic children, such as the cerebellum and parietal cortex. Earlier research, recently published in “Brain Structure & Function” journal, will serve to design better diagnostic methods for dyslexia, and in the future may help to design appropriate therapies.
Other research in the Centre included a comprehensive analysis of the chemical signalling pathways via which malignant brain tumours reprogram human immune cells and induce them to cooperate. Thanks to modern, large-scale methods it was possible to evaluate changes in the expression of not only single genes, but all genes at once. This data was published in the prestigious neurobiological periodical “Glia”.
Also completed were efforts related to the construction of a database concerning genetic information processing (regulatory mechanisms) on the genomic scale in mice, rats and humans. The database of the genomic portal of the Nencki Institute is integrated with other scientific databases. It contains a complete dataset and a number of bioinformatics tools necessary for the evaluation of “reading” methods for each gene based on the gene’s sequence and data on its regulation in various cells. A description of this unique database was published in the prestigious periodical “Database” by Oxford Press.
The Neurobiology Centre is also home to the NAPS database (Nencki Affective Picture System). Each of over 1350 photographs showing humans, animals, landscapes and objects were examined by over 200 people. The collected behavioural data enable scientists to predict whether a given picture will be perceived by a person as positive/negative, stimulating/relaxing and so on. NAPS (naps.nencki.gov.pl) is the first database of this type in Europe, and is matched to the specifics of our culture.
The NAPS database is already used in research on memory. When volunteers are shown photographs with a simultaneous observation of the activity of various centres of the brain, the scientists of the Neurobiology Centre are capable of predicting whether the evaluated subject will remember a given photograph in a few weeks or not. This research will make it possible to establish why certain events are so firmly etched in our memories. The long-term goal is the understanding of the activity of attention and memory pathologies that play a leading role in post-traumatic stress, for example.
In addition to conducting research, the Neurobiology Centre constitutes a friendly and attractive development environment for scientists from throughout the world in the areas of neurobiology, biochemistry and molecular biology.
“The scope of the investment in the Neurobiology Centre, the most modern equipment and, foremost, excellent scientific staff are our strongest suits. We are counting that this combination will make the Nencki Institute one of Europe’s leading research centres”, says Prof. Adam Szewczyk, the director of the Nencki Institute.
The CePT project, with a budget of over 388 million PLN, is the biggest biomedical/biotechnology undertaking in Central and Eastern Europe. A system of core facility laboratories are being built in Warsaw’s Ochota district as part of this project, wherein the Nencki Institute is one of over a dozen beneficiaries. This system will integrate the research and development activities of many scientific institutions. These laboratories will make it possible to conduct basic and preclinical research at the highest European levels in the areas of protein functional and structural analyses, biomaterial physico-chemistry and nanotechnology, as well as supporting medical technology, physiology and pathophysiology, oncology, neurobiology, genomics and research into age-related diseases.
The Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences has been established in 1918 and is the largest non-university centre for biological research in Poland. Priority fields for the Institute include neurobiology, neurophysiology, cellular biology and biochemistry and molecular biology – at the level of complexity from tissue organisms through cellular organelles to proteins and genes. There are 31 labs at the Institute, among them modern Laboratory of Confocal Microscopy, Laboratory of Cytometry, Laboratory of Electron Microscopy, Behavioural and Electrophysiological Tests. The Institute is equipped with state-of-the-art research equipment and modernized animal house, where lab animals are bred, also transgenic animals, in accordance with the highest standards. Quality of experiments, publications and close ties with the international science community, place the Institute among the leading biological research centres in Europe.