Human Brain Project – the challenge for medicine


Richard Frackowiak

Director, Department of Clinical Neuroscience
Head of Service of Neurology
CHUV University Hospital
and Ecole Politechnique Federale de Lausanne
Lausanne, Switzerland

13:45 – 14:30
Wednesday, 26 August 2015
Silver Room



The traditional approach to determining disease nosology – eliciting symptoms and signs, creating clusters of like individuals and defining diseases primarily on those criteria has not generated fundamental breakthroughs in understanding sequences of pathophysiology mechanisms that lead to the repertoire of psychiatric and neurological diseases. We now know that a single gene mutation may present with multiple phenotypes, and vice versa, that a range of genetic abnormalities may cause a single phenotype. These observations lead to the conclusion that a deeper understanding is needed of the way changes at one spatial or temporal level of brain organisation (e.g., genetic, proteomic or metabolic) integrate and translate into others, eventually resulting in behaviour and cognition. The Human Brain Project is a massive collaborative effort, funded by the European Union, between basic and clinical neuroscientists and computer engineers. We aim to develop a working biological theory of the brain from the most basic level – its genes, to the most complicated – cognition, emotion, perception and action. Using data collected over decades, interrogated by radical new data-addressing protocols developed for the purpose, we will employ supercomputers to generate disease signatures based on a combination of clinical details and biological information. Neurologists and psychiatrists will use the results of data mining the masses of data in Europe’s hospital and research databases to develop new diagnostic schemas facilitating thus an era of precision medicine


Richard Frackowiak holds a titular professorship at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. He is a director of the EU’s “Human Brain Project” responsible for medical informatics. A pioneer of human brain imaging research he developed methods and applied them to investigate human brain structure and function relationships in health and disease. Currently he is pioneering collaboration between modern informatics and brain medicine in the HBP. His scientific output is highly cited with an h-index of 161. He has received the Ipsen, Wilhelm Feldberg and Klaus Joachim Zulch prizes. Formerly Foundation Professor of Cognitive Neurology at University College London (UCL), Director of the Department of Cognitive Studies (DEC) at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, Wellcome Trust Principal Clinical Research Fellow, Vice-Provost of UCL and Dean-Director of its Institute of Neurology, he also founded the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience and the FIL in 1994 where he is now an honorary professor. He finished his career in Lausanne where he created and headed the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the Université de Lausanne (UNIL) and its Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV) where he retains honorary appointments. Frackowiak has an MA and MD from Cambridge (Peterhouse), a DSc from London University, an honorary medical doctorate from Liege University. A Fellow of the Academies of Medical Sciences of the UK, France and Belgium, he is a member of the Academia Europaea and a foreign associate of the Institute of Medicine of the American Academies of Science and the Polish Academy of Sciences. He has served as president of the British Neuroscience Association and the European Brain and Behaviour Society and belongs to numerous national and European neurological societies. He was scientific advisor to the Director-General of INSERM in France and has held prestigious visiting professorships internationally, editorships and international society roles worldwide. He has always shown a commitment to Europe and had many advisory positions including chair of the Medical Sciences committee of Science Europe.