From cortex to classroom is a multidisciplinary reserach program aimed at enhancing brain development for premature infants

Lay summary
Currently the rate for prematurity is the highest it has been in over 20 years. Long-term survival for premature infants has become an almost expected outcome over the past two decades due to improved neonatal care, but unfortunately often associated with perinatal brain damage and long-term developmental disabilities,such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation and a wide spectrum of learning disabilities. A critical feature of neonatal brain damage is that, in addition to the acute damage, neuronal circuits pursue developmental processes with a significant cell loss. This could lead to disruption of normal developmental processes and even more dramatic deterioration of brain functions. The key issue is to understand how, where and when these changes take place and to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of these processes. This will be important for developing new strategies to improve tissue repair and the subsequent development of preserved cortical circuits. The Cortex to Classroom programme is a specific targeted programme including research projects dedicated to young clinician scientists,and designed to (1) understand the effects of prematurity on long-term structural and functional brain development, (2) identify early markers of perinatal brain damage and its underlying mechanism and (3) target endogenous and exogenous molecules for potential neuroprotective and neuroregenerative intervention (e.g. Erythropoietin). One important objective of the project will be to use and to develop animal models of functional recovery which will represent a point of convergence between clinicians and basic scientists and simultaneously allow for addressing issues of medical relevance and testing molecular hypotheses, with a study design which uses methodology, such as magnetic resonance imaging and neuro-electrophysiology, that allows translation from animal to human and vice-versa. The current research is aimed at finding new strategies to help reduce the enormous individual, familial, and societal burden that perinatal brain damage in premature infants represents. It is this consortiums goal to contribute to an improvement of this situation for future generations.