The Neurodegeneration Challenge Network unifies scientists to research the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders. 
The Neurodegeneration Challenge Network unifies scientists to research the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders. 
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a charity from Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, has recently launched the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network. This new network  brings together experimental scientists from various biomedical research areas, experts in  computational biology and physicians with the aim of researching the underlying mechanisms of neurdegenerative disorders.  

One of the scientific teams that was selected is a Belgian one and is led by professor Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven), in addition to clinical expert professor Wim Vandenberghe (University Hospitals Leuven) and neuro-engineer dr. Dries Braeken (imec).


Katja Brose, Science Program Officer of the CZI: “Neurodegenerative disorders such as ALS and Alzheimer's, Parkinson's en Huntington's disease, affect millions of people worldwide. For most of the neurodegenerative diseases the causes are only partly known. What's more, there are still no efficient therapies to cure, prevent or even treat most of them.”

The Neurodegeneration Challenge Network of the CZI now seeks to address these gaps by launching a collaborative network that focuses on neurodegenerative disorders as a broad class of disorders with common features and potentially shared solutions. The Belgian team plans to create a new chip to study the mechanisms of Parkinson's disease.    

“We will produce mature human neuronal microcircuits that are relevant to Parkinson's disease on a multi-electrode array chip," Braeken explains. “The chip will be used to measure electrophysiological changes between neuronal circuits of cells obtained from healthy subjects and from a large group of Parkinson's patients."  The 2D chip is a first step in developing a 3D human-relevant model for brain functions and diseases. 

“We will produce mature human neuronal microcircuits that are relevant to Parkinson’s disease on a multi-electrode array chip,”

Verstreken stresses the relevance of this system: "It is our goal to 'print' tiny portions of the human brain on a unique chip, giving scientists access to human brain tissue from both patients and healthy subjects. We can use this technology to track disease progression as well as to screen for strategies to correct the problems." 

According to Vandenberghe the potential benefits will reach much further than just Parkinson's disease: “We're developing this chip using tissue from patients with Parkinson's disease but the same technology can also be applied to create better models for Huntington's disease or any other neuredegenerative disorder". 

From a strong international group of candidates, the foundation selected nine project teams. Each team will receive $ 1.05 million. In addition to the Belgian consortium, only one other non-US team was selected.  

“Despite great investments and progress in understanding neurogenerative disorders, there is still a surprising lack of very basic knowledge about their biology", Brose concludes. “By supporting these nine interdisciplinary collaborations and creating shared tools, resourses and platforms, we hope to inspire a new approach to neurodegenerative disorders, one that leverages the power of basic science and technology to accelerate progress towards clinical goals."