UCL raises the neuroscience stakes in a link with French universities

4 July 2005

In a significant development for European higher education and research, University College London (UCL) today signed a research alliance agreement with Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), with the ambition of creating a tri-polar centre of world excellence in the cognitive and neurosciences.

Over the next five years, UCL, UPMC and the ENS will pool their expertise and facilities with a view to making significant advances in the field, working towards a greater understanding of the human brain and conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease and psychiatric disorders.

Collaboration has already begun with the setting up of an ambitious new neuroimaging centre in Saclay near Paris under the auspices of the French Commissariat d'Energie Atomique (CEA). This will provide powerful magnets for brain scanning to which UCL scientists will have direct access. As a result of the alliance, UCL Vice-Provost Professor Richard Frackowiak will become director of the department of cognitive sciences at the ENS. Concrete working relationships are already being established between the Functional Imaging Laboratory at UCL and a new Magnetic Resonance Imaging facility at the Salpêtrière Hospital (Faculty of Medicine of Paris VI).

There will be many opportunities for interactions between scientists in Paris and high profile units such as the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Gatsby Units at UCL. These are especially exciting as they bring philosophers, mathematicians and physicists together with biological scientists who measure brain activity with imaging.

Looking to the future, the alliance is planning a two year Masters in Neuroscience, with one year to be spent in Paris and one in London. Workshops will be organised with scientists from both sides of the Channel, and the ambition is that these will promote joint projects, joint supervision of students and sharing of equipment and expertise.

"This is a unique opportunity to capitalise on the intellectual capital we have in Europe," said Professor Frackowiak. "The interface between scientific disciplines and cultures is often a fertile ground for making ground-breaking discoveries. We know the brain is the great frontier and we want to push forward at speed. This alliance will make that possible."

"This is a major collaboration between three research-intensive European universities," said Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL. "We are complementing our respective research and higher education strengths to maximise our competitiveness. All three institutions are making concrete and unprecedented financial and personnel commitments. An example is the investment of one of our world-class scientists to spend time in Paris catalysing progress in the field. This agreement is entirely in line with our aspiration to position UCL as a global university."

"The agreement between UCL and UPMC (which is the major French science university partner of ENS) will enable the creation of binational doctoral programmes offering students from both countries a wide range of advanced training and tutors in the research groups of the three partners," said Professor Gabriel Ruget, director of the ENS. "Our aim is for the quality of these programmes to attract the best European, A merican and A sian students to our three campuses, on top of the students we already receive via current institutional relationships across the continents."

"The creation of the alliance between UCL, UPMC and ENS in the field of neuroscience is of particular importance to our university," said Professor Gilbert Béréziat, President of Université Pierre et Marie Curie. "Although there are already a number of established links between ENS and UPMC, this is the first time that an agreement of this magnitude has been signed between two major French and British universities. This is an important step in the development of higher education and research in Europe, facilitating the movement of students and enabling researc ers to tap in to a network of exceptional research . L'Université Pierre et Marie Curie hopes that this agreement will form the foundation for closer cooperation between UCL and UPMC and, in the wider picture, symbolise a rapprochement between top educational establishments in the UK and France."

Notes for Editors

1. For further information or to request interviews, contact Jenny Gimpel in the UCL media relations office on 020 7679 9739 or j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk .