13 Giugno 2024

Connect Brain, the international neuroscience conference in Trento

The third “Connect Brain theoretical and practical conference”, attended by neuroscientists from all over the world, began today in Trento at the Sala della Filarmonica. Now that Italian neurosurgery has reached an important position at the international level, “Connect brain” is an opportunity to talk about new frontiers in research and clinical practice

This third edition will end on 15 June with the practical training part in which the participants will learn to use a number of tools and further increase their knowledge of the functional and structural anatomy of the brain. The event is organized by the Provincial Health Care Services in collaboration with the University of Trento and the Bruno Kessler Foundation with the support of the Autonomous Province of Trento, the Italian Society of Neurosurgery (SINch), the Italian Association of Neuro-Oncology (AINO), the Pezcoller Foundation and the Association of Surgeons and Dentists of the Province of Trento. 
Mario Tonina, provincial councillor for health and social policies, gave the opening speech at the conference on behalf of the Autonomous Province of Trento: «A warm welcome to all of you, to the participants and to the speakers who will present the most recent methodological advances in the study of brain structure and function. Thanks to these studies, we can increase our understanding of the brain's functioning and explore practical applications to treat brain diseases. Research is the foundation on which to build the future of medicine, it is the key to develop new technologies, improve existing techniques and adopt more effective and less invasive treatments. In this context – he continued – the Province is constantly committed to support excellence in research and innovation, as shown by the launch of the degree programme in medicine and surgery. This degree, together with the other education opportunities in the field of health professions, contributes to strengthening the Trentino system of research, innovation and higher education, whose quality is recognized at the national level».
For neuroscientists, understanding the brain and treating brain tumours is a real challenge in medicine and oncology. « Technological and instrumental innovations have contributed to a significant development of this sector and have made it possible to achieve unimaginable results. Connect Brain is a learning opportunity – explains Silvio Sarubbo, professor at the Centre for Medical Sciences of the University of Trento and director of the Operating Unit of Neurosurgery at the Santa Chiara Hospital in Trento – that was launched in 2015 to create a bridge between basic neuroscience and clinical, neurological and neurosurgical research. And this collaborative relationship has practical repercussions on the treatment of patients with brain tumors» .
A strong interdisciplinary approach.
«Our contribution – says Jorge Jovicich, scientific coordinator of the neuroimaging laboratory at the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences of the University of Trento – is to provide the Operative Unit of neurosurgery with a data acquisition protocol for the dissemination of functional imaging and tools to jointly analyze these data, which are very useful to plan surgeries and monitor the patient's cognitive recovery in the post-surgery phase» .
Artificial intelligence also plays an important role in the development of neurosciences.
«There is a sort of short circuit. On the one hand – underlines Paolo Avesani, head of the Neuroinformatics laboratory at Fbk – neurosciences try to explain how the brain works. Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, tries to replicate it. These two disciplines benefit from each other and, in turn, clinical activity benefits from this positive interaction».
After the success of the two previous editions of Connect Brain – the first in 2015, the second in 2019 – in this third edition neuroscientists from different fields (advanced neuroradiological imaging, neurophysiology, neurobiology, neuroinformatics, neurology, neurophysiology, neurosurgery, oncology and radiotherapy), in eight theoretical sessions, will discuss the new evidence regarding the functioning of the human brain, its plasticity and compensation mechanisms, the most advanced techniques to study it and to effectively treat brain tumors with surgical and medical therapies.
Brain tumours represent one of the most challenging areas of oncology given the still poor knowledge of these diseases, their possible evolution and the development of new conceptual and therapeutic approaches that have occurred in recent years, especially thanks to the evidence produced by neurobiology and genetics that has allowed us to better understand some essential aspects.
Thursday and Friday are dedicate to studies, discussion and the speakers' presentations. On Saturday, the programme includes a practical training session focusing on some new tools developed as part of the collaboration between Fbk, the University of Trento and Apss. The participants will be able to learn about the most modern applications of technology for the treatment of brain neoplasms and, more generally, of motor disorders, and will have access to these tools, learn how to use functional resting MRI, and consult maps of the structure of the brain and its functions.
The tools developed in Trentino
In Trento, the collaboration between the three main stakeholders in neuroscientific research – the University of Trento, Fondazione Bruno Kessler and the Provincial Health Care Services – has led to the creation of the first functional brain atlas obtained by merging resting functional magnetic resonance imaging data from healthy patients and electrical stimulation data collected during neurosurgeries to remove brain tumours. Using complex artificial intelligence methods, these two information sources were combined to clearly identify the extent of brain areas that are essential for 12 different functions. The data obtained helped identify the brain pathways that connect these areas thanks to a new advanced MRI technique, tractography, which makes it possible to visualise brain fibres.
The Atlas is the result of the "NeuSurPlan" clinical project, launched in 2021 with funds from the Autonomous Province of Trento. Its goal was to contribute to technology transfer, increase our understanding of the functional anatomy of the brain, and transform discoveries made in the laboratory into therapeutic and surgical applications.
And yet this is not the only result achieved by the interaction between clinical practice, neurosurgery and basic research. The diverse experience and expertise of the institutions involved in the project has made it possible to create the first automatic system to explore brain functions at the cortical level. A software product that makes it possible, through a short 11-minute MRI sequence, to obtain a map of different brain functions that can be used both as a tool to plan surgery, and therefore reduce the risk of damage to functional brain tissue, and to understand the mechanisms of neuronal reorganization and plasticity during the course of the patients' disease.
Finally, the combination of clinical work and laboratory activity gave the researchers the opportunity to create the first digitised atlas of brain white matter, obtained by integrating the anatomical micro-dissection of brain fibres with magnetic resonance tractography studies. A tool that is now available online ( and which constitutes a unique resource to teach and learn the anatomy of the main connecting pathways of the human brain