Clinical FeaturesNeurology

Advancing Brain Research and Treatment: FutureNeuro’s Vision to Change the Patient Journey

Brain disease is one of the biggest challenges for public health, society and the economy in Ireland. With one in three individuals affected over their lifetime, the annual burden on healthcare and welfare systems amounts to an estimated ¤30 billion. In Ireland alone, more than 800,000 people grapple with conditions impacting the brain and central nervous system, ranging from epilepsy and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and acquired brain injury. More than 30% of people affected will also contend with psychiatric disorders, adding complexity to their care.

FutureNeuro, an Ireland-based interdisciplinary research centre, is committed to alleviating this burden by accelerating progress and translating innovations into real-world solutions. With a focus on improving diagnosis, developing targeted treatments, and advancing healthcare management, the Centre is committed to making tangible differences to patient outcomes. Already, FutureNeuro’s research has led to transformative interventions, including genetic testing to identify patients most suitable for life-changing therapies.

Navigating the Path Forward: FutureNeuro’s Vision for the Future

As FutureNeuro embarks on its second phase (FutureNeuro 2), fuelled by remarkable achievements since it launched in 2017, its vision for the future remains clear – to change the patient journey. However, the reality is that most brain diseases still lack effective treatments and diagnosis remains a prolonged process for many. Recognising the scale of the challenge ahead, the Centre has brought together the very best scientists, clinicians, and academic and industry partners. Together they will work on an integrated research programme to progress the Centre’s ambition to become a world-leading research institute that directly connects with the needs of patients and their clinicians.

Expanding the Team

To realise transformative advances, FutureNeuro, led by David Henshall, Centre Director and Professor of Molecular Physiology and Neuroscience at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, is scaling up its operations and integrating new science, talent, and expertise in brain research from prestigious institutions across Ireland, including RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, University College Dublin, University of Galway, University College Cork, Maynooth University and South East Technological University. Most importantly, the Centre is integrated with a researchengaged national clinical network who collectively inform the research questions and ensure valuable access to patients and their data in order to make the research relevant and translational.

While maintaining a strong focus on epilepsy and Motor Neuron Disease (MND), FutureNeuro 2 is broadening its impact to include neurodevelopmental disorders, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and their intersections with psychosis and mental health. FutureNeuro 2 has grown their network to over thirty research leaders, their dedicated teams and new enabling infrastructure. This collective expertise will further our understanding of the mechanism of action of the brain and brain disease, enable the identification of new molecular diagnostics, neurogenetics, noncoding RNA biology, and gene therapies.

Moreover, FutureNeuro 2 recognises the invaluable potential in cross-pollinating discoveries across different disease areas. By leveraging insights gleaned from one condition to inform research and treatments for others, the Centre aims to maximize impact and efficiency, ultimately accelerating progress towards addressing the broader spectrum of brain diseases.

New Research Frontiers: From Diagnostics to Therapy and Beyond

FutureNeuro’s research is built on three connected themes –diagnosis, therapy and digital health. The Centre is rolling out an integrated programme of work across their eight academic partners which will be complemented by collaborative projects with world-leading industry partners.


This strand of the programme concentrates on discovering genes that cause brain disease or influence how people respond to treatments. The Diagnostics Team is examining the chemistry of the blood and fluid that surrounds the brain to look for answers to causes and prognosis, recognising that errors in DNA may not always be the sole cause.

By analysing the chemistry outside brain cells, researchers can create a molecular fingerprint or profile specific to a particular brain condition. These are known as biomarkers. When combined with brain imaging, artificial intelligence, and recordings of brain activity, these biomarkers enable increasingly accurate predictions of how a brain disease will develop in an individual overtime.

Genomics is transforming the diagnosis of neurological diseases, paving the way for the emergence of precision medicine. FutureNeuro has been instrumental in incorporating genomics into clinical practice, leading to faster and more accurate diagnoses. Currently, FutureNeuro Deputy Director, Prof Gianpiero Cavalleri is co-leading an Irish consortium of partners to contribute to the ¤20M Digital Europe Call “Federated European infrastructure for genomics data”. This initiative is geared towards advancing the European 1+ Million Genomes Initiative, aiming to realise a unified platform for genomic data across Europe.


FutureNeuro’s therapeutics research is organised as a pipeline, drawing on the insights from their diagnostics teams to identify to identify potential targets for future medications. A ground-breaking capability lies in the ability to generate human brain cells in the lab, allowing safer and more effective drugs to be screened for. But, to fully capitalise on the promise of genetics, however, requires gene therapy. Encouragingly, remarkable progress has been achieved; Clinical investigator Prof Orla Hardiman is trialling a number of pioneering gene therapy-based treatments for ALS in collaboration with world-leading pharmaceutical companies.

The Centre is also looking at how to safely deliver genes to precise areas of the brain, to control their activation via on/off switches and minimise potential side effects. Research extends to areas such as small noncoding RNAs and the biology of the blood-brain barrier. With a sharpened focus on accelerating clinical development and understanding the intricacies of the human brain, FutureNeuro 2 is charting a course towards neurotherapeutics of the future.

Digital Health

In the rapidly evolving landscape of digital health, innovations are fundamentally reshaping healthcare delivery, access, and system operations. FutureNeuro’s research program stands at the forefront, driven by the insights of clinicians and patients alike. Leveraging a rich data environment and cuttingedge digital technologies, they are co-designing solutions for proactive, personalised, and costeffective healthcare.

The Centre is laying the groundwork for a learning health system. This involves ethically integrating diverse datasets, including electronic health records and passive data from connected devices in homes. Furthermore, responsible artificial intelligence (AI) solutions aim to extract valuable insights from data, aiding clinical decision-making and continually improving patient care.

In tandem, FutureNeuro 2 is pioneering a smartphone appbased digital therapeutic. Tailored to capture lifestyle data, it provides personalised interventions for mental well-being. Moreover, through strategic industry partnerships nurtured by programs like SFI SPOKE (EMPOWER and Precision ALS), they are advancing next-phase projects focused on health data analytics and building trust in the secondary use of data, alongside the utilisation and adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Mental Health

Mental health research is threaded throughout the new programme. In diagnostics, a significant new study is underway to look for changes in blood chemistry, aiming to identify people at risk earlier than is currently possible. In the drug development programme, researchers are targeting genes associated with psychosis while incorporating assessments for depression, anxiety, and psychosis across all drug development projects. This approach not only enhances drug efficacy but also provides insights into addressing the underlying mechanisms of mental health disorders. In the digital therapeutics program, efforts are focused on leading advancements in technologies that not only monitor but also positively intervene in brain health. This includes digital therapeutics that offer individuals greater control and continuity of care.

Rare Diseases

The Irish Government is committed to addressing rare diseases, with plans underway to create a National Rare Diseases Plan and a National Genetics and Genomics Medicine Network. FutureNeuro clinical researchers are developing patient registers for rare genomic diseases in order to stratify patients for clinical trials and be ready to implement advances in genomic medicine. Additionally, promising treatments are emerging at pre-clinical stage for epilepsy, including those for conditions like Dravet syndrome.

FutureNeuro 2 will prioritize these often-overlooked conditions, aiming to drive progress and improve patient outcomes.

New Research Projects

FutureNeuro 2 is already working on some remarkable projects that are taking a deep dive into the workings of the human brain. One such project involves recording patterns of electrical activity of brain cells, essentially eavesdropping on neurons and listening for when they misfire. This is possible because sometimes doctors will implant electrodes into the brains of people with treatment-resistant epilepsy to pinpoint the source of their seizures. The researchers have found a way to measure gene activity at the site of those recordings. This is helping to discover new genes that influence brain function and could hold promise for clinical decisionmaking. Like so much of the Centre’s work, this research relies on specialised scientific skills and collaboration with their dedicated clinical partners. This is only made possible by the robust framework upon which FutureNeuro 2 is built.

Another exciting study aims to understand how to repair leaky blood vessels in the brain. In a healthy brain, blood vessels are tightly sealed, but in many neurological diseases, they become permeable. This hallmark is also associated with psychosis. By reapplying the genetic ‘glue’ responsible for maintaining the blood-brain barrier, researchers hope to open the doors to a completely new type of treatment.

Education, Public and Patient Engagement

A further evolution within FutureNeuro 2 is the deeper integration of patients within the Centre. They contribute to identifying research priorities, evaluating progress, and aid in communication with the public, funders, and policymakers, ensuring that research aligns closely with patient needs. Their Patient Panel played a key role in preparing the research strategy for FutureNeuro 2. The Centre is now actively developing diseasespecific patient panels that will be embedded across all areas of their research, including Parkinson’s disease and MS.

Education and public engagement is another key component of their mission. The Brain Health webinar series, developed in partnership with Epilepsy Ireland, is just one example of the strategic collaborations they have undertaken to help break down barriers and make epilepsy research accessible to all. The team will also raise awareness of brain health and wellness with the wider community through an innovative education and engagement campaign called ‘My Moving Brain’, co-delivered across Ireland with patient advocacy groups and local sports partnerships as part of an SFI Discover Award. This initiative will build on their highly successful ‘Cell Explorers’ school programme that will continue to inspire the next generation of life scientists.

With over 350 engagement activities undertaken, including collaborative events with charitable organizations, enlightening workshops in schools, thoughtprovoking discussions at the Pint of Science festival, the creation of informative blogs for wider audiences, and valuable contributions to national policy, the Centre will continue to raise awareness and capture the public’s imagination, supported by a dedicated Education and Public and Patient Engagement Lead. Industry

Collaborating with industry is fundamental to the success of FutureNeuro. To date, the Leadership Team have undertaken more than 30 collaborative research projects, including partnerships with Roche, UCB, IQVIA, Novartis, Janssen, and Congenica. These include bringing new diagnostic supports to market, advancing a pipeline of new drugs through development and testing, and expanding digital health solutions to enable patients and their clinicians to co-monitor their health better than ever before. In FutureNeuro 2, the team will expand engagement with industry with a collective aim to advance new therapeutics and precision medicines, identify faster and more precise diagnostics tools, leverage the power of AI to accelerate discoveries based on clinical data and promote Ireland as a preferred location for early-stage clinical trials.

As FutureNeuro 2 embarks on its mission to revolutionize brain research and treatment in Ireland, it commits not only to unravelling the complexities of brain diseases but also to leading the charge in translating these findings, paving the way for improved patient outcomes and transformative strides in healthcare.

For more information on the work of FutureNeuro go to

Read HPN June 2024

Read our Clinical Features

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please Confirm

This website is only for the eyes of medical professionals. Are you a medical professional?