East meets West: The Science Bridge

Charité-based neuroscientists launch an initiative aimed at fostering scientific collaboration and exchange

Under the leadership of neuroscientists from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, more than 200 researchers from across the globe have joined forces to strengthen intercultural collaboration and exchange. ‘The Science Bridge’ project counts 29 Nobel Prize-winners among its supporters. The aim of the initiative is to speed up scientific advances in understanding basic brain functions and finding novel strategies to treat and cure human brain diseases, while also promoting relationships and understanding between different cultures. Current plans, which focus on collaborations between Western and Middle Eastern countries, are outlined in the current edition of the journal Neuron*.

During their medieval ‘Golden Age’, the Arab and Persian cultures were a vibrant hub of fruitful intellectual exchange. A brief overview of this history is discussed as part of a recent article which represents a collaborative effort involving a total of 122 authors from 80 research institutes and 22 different countries. The authors, all researchers involved in ‘The Science Bridge’ project, suggest that this historical model of tolerance and free exchange could serve as an inspiration for future endeavors aimed at fostering research collaborations between different cultures from Western, Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. Prof. Dr. Mazahir T. Hasan, a neuroscientist at Charité’s NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence and Ikerbasque Professor at the Achucarro-Basque Center for Neuroscience in Spain, and founder of the initiative, explains: “As seekers of truth, researchers are ambassadors with the power to unite the world through science. They can achieve this by harnessing the creative power of different cultures and international collaborations to find new ways to treat and cure diseases.” 

‘The Science Bridge’ project follows a two-stage strategy. Stage 1 of the initiative will involve scientific conferences, exchange programs and joint funding bids, and will be aimed at promoting cooperative projects in the field of neuroscience and the medical sciences in general. Stage 2 will involve the development of ‘Twin Institutes’, i.e. the partnering of two complementary institutes, one of which will be located in a Western country, and the other in a Middle Eastern or South-Asian country. Both institutes will be created in such a way as to ensure they foster the free exchange of ideas. Prof. Dr. Torsten Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate at the Rockefeller University in New York, says: “Researchers from different cultures and nations working together in the ‘Twin Institutes’, an innovative concept devised by ‘The Science Bridge’ initiative, could make important contributions to both science and human relations.”

Modern science is based on reason and logic. The initiative’s founders are therefore hopeful that scientific thinking may also be capable of counteracting ideas aligned with fundamentalism, extreme nationalism and censorship. “Scientific research is closely linked with humanitarian thinking; as such, it is a perfect platform for bringing together people from across the globe,” says Dr. Philipp Boehm-Sturm, a neuroscientist at Charité and an active member of ‘The Science Bridge’ project. Results from scientific research are usually beneficial to society, with innovations in science and technology often linked directly to both increased wealth and improvements in health. Therefore, in order to achieve and maintain competitiveness within modern global markets, countries need to encourage creativity within the research sector. According to the project’s vision, cooperative endeavors will promote positive developments to benefit the common good. All along the way, The Science Bridge plans to continuously engage the public by communicating and discussing the results of the research so that people will have direct access to novel knowledge and so that they can stand testament to the cultures working side-by-side.