Norwegian Neuroscience: Nobel Prizes & Enduring Focus

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Norway has long held a strong international position in neuroscience and is home to Professors May-Britt and Edvard Moser, a married couple and the 2014 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The Mosers, along with their former mentor John O’Keefe, won the award for their work on what has been called the brain’s inner GPS, or global positioning system, a neural network which provides the brain’s sense of place and internal map of its surroundings.

 

One of the things that is unique in Norway is that the Research Council has a ten-year funding scheme. That allows us to plan for ten years of continuous science, to do long-term research, to set goals far ahead in the future and take risks

Edvard Moser

However, their research lab – now the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim – started from humble beginnings back in 1996. The couple was able to negotiate two jobs from the university in addition to equipment to start their own laboratory – the Laboratory for Memory Studies – in what was a former bomb shelter.

 

“There were no animal housing facilities, no workshops and no technicians,” the couple has written of the lab. “We did all the work on our own, we cleaned rat cages, changed bedding, sliced brains and repaired cables.” However, this labour came with a distinct benefit: “Starting from scratch gave us the opportunity to shape the lab exactly as we wanted it.”

 

In terms of the funding for their research, the group was awarded a grant from the European Commission early on to coordinate a consortium of seven groups to perform one of the first integrated neural network studies of hippocampal memory, the results of which led them to shift their focus to the study of the entorhinal cortex, which is where they were able to make their pioneering 2005 discovery of grid cells.

 

Important funding also came from the Research Council of Norway, which in 2002 recognised the quality of the Mosers’ research with the award of a 10-year grant to expand the laboratory to create the Centre for the Biology of Memory, a Norwegian Centre of Excellence. Another grant came in 2007 from The Kavli Foundation, before the Research Council of Norway renewed their commitment to the Moser’s research in 2012 with a second 10-year grant, this time for the for the Centre for Neural Computation.

 

Both Mosers have acknowledged the importance of these long-term grants in enabling to achieve their research goals and ultimately win the Nobel Prize “One of the things that is unique in Norway is that the Research Council has a ten-year funding scheme,” says Edvard. “That allows us to plan for ten years of continuous science, to do long-term research, to set goals far ahead in the future and take risks.”

 

Neuroscience has long been a key area of focus within Norway, and the country was only the second in Europe to establish a Brain Council, back in 2007, aimed at promoting brain health and the nervous system among the entire population. This was followed up by the launch of a national Braun Plan in 2017. Anette Margrethe Storstein, the Council’s current chair, explains the impact of this initiative on research in Norway. “One positive development was a large allocation of funds to establish a national centre for clinical research in neurodegenerative diseases and MS, one year ago,” she states. “Allocation of funding to research in brain science is on the rise, thanks to a number of highly competent scientific environments and collaborations. We wish to promote the recruitment of young scientists and successful and clinically relevant neuroscience now and in the future.”


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