The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is to finance a new “Bernstein Focus on Neurotechnology” at the Universities of Freiburg and Tübingen with funds totalling ten million euros. The new Bernstein Focus will primarily be dealt with at the Bernstein Centre in Freiburg.
The new initiative is part of the Computational Neuroscience funding programme from which the “Bernstein Centre for Computational Neuroscience Freiburg” has already been receiving funding since 2004. The funding also enables the establishment of two new professorships, which will further contribute to strengthening the neurosciences in Freiburg and Tübingen. With their “Hybrid Brain” proposal, the researchers from Freiburg and Tübingen were granted one of four new research centres in Germany. The researchers’ goal is to develop technical systems that are able to communicate directly with the nervous system. Such technologies can be used to control motor prostheses and operate computers and might in the near future also enable the development of technical aids for paralysed patients. Other projects focus on the development of new methods for the treatment of epilepsy and migraine. The goal of this research is to develop implants that register the neural activity of biochemical alterations preceding epileptic seizures or migraines as early as possible, thus enabling effective countermeasures to be taken. “Such hybrid systems are very complex. The brain is a very plastic organ that alters as it learns new things and has new experiences. Neuronal implants must therefore be able to adapt to these changing conditions,” said Ulrich Egert, professor at the University of Freiburg and coordinator of the project. The Bernstein Focus Freiburg/Tübingen will, in addition to technological developments, also focus on ethical aspects. What are the consequences for our self-concept when a computer or microchip is inserted into our brain? The “Bernstein Focus on Neurotechnology” brings together scientists from the Universities and University Hospitals in Freiburg and Tübingen, from the scientific and medical institutes at the University of Tübingen as well as from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen. In order to combine neuroscientific research results with technological applications and use them in a commercial context as soon as possible, the cooperative research project also involves industrial partners, including the Honda Research Institute Europe GmbH, Inomed Medizintechnik GmbH and Multi Channel Systems GmbH.