Science is a Virtue

A chat with the University of Bergen’s Dr Kenneth Hugdahl on his research into auditory hallucination, why meaningful scientific advancement takes time and how the European Research Council (ERC) is integral in making it happen.

By Cais Jurgens

Figure 3_Brain network activation.JPG

In the last century, humanity has produced more world changing, scientific and technological breakthroughs than we can ultimately wrap our collective heads around.

With this in mind, it is important to note that scientific progress can be slow. The breakthroughs that lead to a lasting impact on our everyday lives require a great deal of patience.  

To a society living in the age of instant, short term, social media induced dopamine highs, it is easy to forget that the very technology we take for granted may have required a lifetime of research to produce. The medicine and drugs we ingest from the corner pharmacy once began as a simple question in the mind of a scientist and now cost next to nothing to obtain.

One would almost think that this kind of innovation happens overnight, and as a society, we grow impatient and maybe even resentful that some of the world’s most pressing problems have not yet been sent the way of smallpox or compacted into a handheld device.

In light of this mood, I had the great pleasure to sit down for a chat with Dr Kenneth Hugdahl from the University of Bergen in Norway.

Dr Hugdahl explained to me the reasoning behind the virtue of patience in science, the endlessness of the possibilities we have before us and how the European Research Council (ERC) has shown a willingness to foster a culture of scientific breakthroughs that will have a lasting impact on society.

Dr Hugdahl, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. How did you first become involved with the ERC, why did you decide to apply for an ERC grant and what were the incentives?

Back in 2008 when the ERC was less well known, I was contacted by the research administration department at the University of Bergen and they asked if I’d be interested in submitting a proposal.

Although I didn’t know much about the ERC at the time, the concept was extremely appealing to me because for once I felt that a funding programme was making the distinction, that I have also made, between “science” and “research.”

We don’t often make this distinction because normally, we think of these terms as being synonymous. To me, science is about having an idea.

As I understand, it doesn’t matter to the ERC if you can guarantee a definite impact on society in the short term, it’s whether or not you have a novel, scientific idea that has potential. From my point of view, the ERC recognises this distinction and because of their bottom-up approach to discovery, they are representative of “science.”

To make a further distinction, many other funding programmes available at the time that I was contacted, as well as today, first need a collaborative network or consortium before they can go anywhere.

The ERC, however, avoids first deciding on an umbrella topic to start with, it went the other way around. Essentially, the strategy of the ERC is to say “we will fund anything, as long as it passes our quality test.” So when the research department contacted me, naturally I said yes, that would be appealing... But why me?

At the time, I was researching speech perception, how is it organised in the brain and what happens within the brain when we are listening to someone talking to us. While the ERC would not simply fund my research as it was happening, they would fund a new idea, which could be initially based on that research.

And that idea turned into your current area of research?

Exactly! And then it struck me, that hearing a voice coming from the inside is similar to hearing a voice coming from the outside, with the important difference being that there is no outer source to explain the experience. I had the idea that maybe inner voices activate the same areas and pathways in the brain that would be used to process outside speech.  

So I wrote up the grant based on that question. What happens in the brain when we are hearing voices that do not exist? To my great surprise, the panel liked that idea and encouraged me to apply my previous research to this new area of my research.

What sparked your initial interest in auditory hallucination?

An auditory hallucination is like hearing a voice without an acoustic source to trace it back to.  There are no sound waves hitting the ear to set in motion the neural processes that lead to the perception or sensing of a sound, or in this case, a voice.

Therefore, discovering the origin of an inner voice would be fascinating and in addition to being a question related to consciousness and the complexities of the mind, it could also have a great benefit for society in the long term.

For example, hearing an inner voice is a major symptom in schizophrenia, which is one of the most severe mental disorders that we know of and is a huge burden on society, individuals and families.  By understanding the mechanisms that cause inner voices and other symptoms that objectively do not exist, we can eventually set new treatment targets, and develop better diagnostics.

The fact that I could foresee a societal impact arise from what I consider to be a basic scientific question really sparked my interest. I knew I had the methods to undertake this study and that if the answers came out to our hypothesis, this could lead to better treatment for a very serious disorder.

This brings me back around to my first point, which is why I’m so fond of the ERC. To me, the initial idea is the most important thing. The ERC then recognises that idea and works to empower scientists by helping them build it up, step by step, into a huge project with long term societal impact.

How could your current projects fit in with the ERC=science2 project, Senses?

This is a fascinating campaign and if I have understood it correctly, it studies how we relate to the outer world using our five basic senses and asks whether or not we could manipulate those senses to our benefit using technology.

I don’t just mean “senses” in the way our body responds to outer stimuli, as I think it could also include the senses that come from our “inner world.” Hallucinations, or the general misrepresentation of believing that something inside is coming from the outside, fits perfectly in this category.

To that end, as we develop artificial intelligence, is it perhaps possible that robots or other machines will one day hallucinate?

If a machine can be intelligent, is there an end to that intelligence and could it eventually become so advanced that it has the same kind of pathology and abnormalities that can develop within the human brain? To get back to the key point, this project connects our outer senses with our inner world. I believe that auditory hallucination sits right in between, because it is the belief that I am responding to something from the outer world when in fact, the opposite is true.  

I think this might also be an interesting twist to the very concept of senses, in that they don’t only go in one direction. While receiving and acting on information from the outside is the main aspect of our senses, it is important to consider that we are also aware and conscious of our own thoughts, which is kind of an inner sense in itself.  

What would you say are the objectives of your two current projects, Voices, which is finished and On/Off, which is ongoing?

In the first project I was out to answer the question of what’s going on in the brain when an individual is hearing voices artificially. Where in the brain do these voices come from, how is brain chemistry changing, how are the neurons reacting, what kind of impulses are they sending between themselves to create this inner sense?

We were able to find some answers to those questions, but then another question struck me when I was about to write the second proposal. After all that research, one big unanswered question remained, and that was why aren’t these hallucinations constant?

Why do they seem to fluctuate over time, and start and stop almost spontaneously? We were so focused on what makes them start, we hadn’t yet thought to ask ourselves an equally important and simple question, what makes them stop?

If we could figure that out, and particularly how the chemistry of the brain is changing when the neurons are signaling the hallucinations to stop, we could find new targets for treatment to prolong the “peacetime.” That includes developing new drugs that mimic the chemistry in the brain that turns off a hallucination, and maybe even prevents them from ever starting again.

0fe32033-f754-422e-8d14-e1bcabf3c096.jpg

Is this what you are hoping to discover by going for the second grant?

Yes, so in this new proposal I’m asking one simple question, why do hallucinations fluctuate?  In a sense, the rest of the proposal fills in to that one question, so there is a direct progression from the first project into the second.

If I hadn’t had the first project, I probably never would have asked the second question, or written the second proposal.  

Why do you feel it is important for the general public to be aware of the kind of research going on at the University of Bergen and that the ERC is trying to promote, even if it doesn’t directly affect them today?

This relates, in my view, to my point that the ERC is a science funder rather than a research funder. Without these initial scientific ideas, we wouldn’t end up with much to apply directly to society because we wouldn’t know enough about the mechanisms that cause changes or phenomenon in nature, in general.

To bring this back to your question about my own projects, it is my view that we could probably not understand schizophrenia without basic science, and a basic understanding of the mechanisms that cause auditory hallucinations.

Without these basic understandings, we’ll just end up manufacturing medications that treat the symptoms of a disease, instead of understanding the root cause.

Therefore, I don’t see a conflict between what the ERC is doing in the long term and what the politicians and policy-makers and the general public see in the short term. Furthermore, without breakthroughs at the basic levels, there will be media headlines that promise much more than can be delivered.

The ERC provides a platform for a solid breakthrough of knowledge and in that way, at least to the University of Bergen but I imagine to many others as well, is the most important and most prestigious funding source in European academia today.

 

Figure 1_Kenneth Hugdahl portrett.JPG


Kenneth Hugdahl is a neuroscientist and professor of biological psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway, and holds adjunct position as researcher in psychiatry and radiology at the Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway. He took his PhD in psychology at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and moved to Bergen and Norway in 1984 to take up a professorial chair. He has supervised more than 40 PhD candidates and been a member of numerous committees and boards, both nationally and internationally. He was awarded Honorary Doctor at the University of Turku, Finland in 2009, and is elected member to both the Finnish and Norwegian Academies of Science and Letters. He has received several prizes and awards for his research, among them the Møbius Prize from the Research Council of Norway in 2014. He was one of the pioneers in introducing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to Norway in the early 1990s, and was the Head of the Bergen fMRI Group from its start to 2016 when he resigned. Kenneth Hugdahl has published more than 300 articles, and six books, mainly in cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology, with applications to psychiatry, neurology and related fields.  

 

FIGURE LEGENDS

Figure 1: Kenneth Hugdahl portrait. Photo: Thor Monsen, Bergen, with permission

Figure 2: Interior of an MR scanner, courtesy of Dept. Radiology, Haukeland University Hospital. Photo: Eyvind Senneset, with permission.

Figure 3: Example of a brain activation network, recorded with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Photo: Alex Craven, University of Bergen.

New Quantum Helix Entangles Researchers & Companies in Vision2020

TU Delft in the Netherlands takes the lead in Quantum Physics on Crowdhelix

TU Delft in the Netherlands takes the lead in Quantum Physics on Crowdhelix

Today, Professor Stephanie Wehner kicked off the Quantum Helix initiative at QuTech in Delft. This initiative, within the Horizon 2020 program, opens the door towards an active community linking researchers and companies on quantum information technology. The Quantum Helix is supported by the FET Quantum Flagship, in which QuTech is highly involved.

One of the goals of the Vision2020 network is linking excellent researchers and innovating companies to deliver pioneering projects under the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding program. Helixes, such as the newly launched Quantum Helix, allow for community building within focused, promising topics where advice and expertise can be shared. At the same time, collaboration between experts in the 15 other specific Helixes is encouraged and allows for the development of new technologies on cross-cutting topics.

This kind of collaboration is made possible by Vision2020’s bespoke networking  platform, Crowdhelix. The goal of this platform is to facilitate collaboration between members of academia and industry in pursuit of grant funding from the European Union. Currently, the Crowdhelix platform features nearly 4300 unique users as it cultivates  an intelligent and automated matchmaking space for funding opportunities.

Professor Stephanie Wehner is leading the Quantum Helix

Professor Stephanie Wehner is leading the Quantum Helix

QuTech, as powered by TU Delft and TNO, is proud to setup the Quantum Helix in order to generate an approachable network on quantum research and engineering. As a recognized scientific member of the Quantum Community, Professor Stephanie Wehner will lead the Quantum Helix.

As a noted Leeuwenhoek Professor in quantum information at QuTech, Stephanie is one of the founders of QCRYPT, which has subsequently become the largest conference in quantum cryptography. She has written numerous scientific articles in both physics and computer science and as part of the Quantum Internet Team, she works with experimentalists in order to jointly overcome the theoretical challenges in building large scale quantum networks.

Supported by the FET Quantum Flagship, the Quantum Helix aims to provide an industry platform for the Quantum Flagship community in Europe. This will be integral in helping to connect promising startups with corporate players. At the same time this will also enhance the connection between industry and academia in order to address technical subjects or infrastructure requirements for future needs.

 

From Scepticism to a Clear Vision: Greece in Horizon 2020

On behalf of Vision2020: The Horizon Network, I'd like to present the second article in a series of interviews with some of our most active members. In this article, I'll be introducing Panos Psoroidas. 

As a Vision2020 Regional Business Partner from Athens, Panos was kind enough to give us his thoughts on Greece's place in Horizon 2020, how to potentially drive more research and innovation funding into Southern Europe during the upcoming work programme, and his experience so far working with Vision2020.

By Cais Jurgens

Good afternoon and thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. To begin, can you please tell me a bit about yourself, how you first come across Vision2020 and perhaps go into some detail about your initial thoughts of the network and its goals?

I have been active in the European Research & Technology ecosystem since FP5, as a business advisor, mainly on management and on building exploitation strategies for research projects.

For a number of reasons, my involvement in EU-funded projects was not my first priority for a number of years, only to be revived by the end of 2013.

It was not more than a year ago, that I was introduced to Vision2020 through a colleague. Knowing that Horizon 2020 has been a major area of interest for me, she was adamant that I should get to know what the Vision2020 Network (Vision2020) is all about.

I must admit that at first, I was rather sceptical. For example, there are quite a few networks around and the actual value they provide to H2020 participants and implementers, besides generic information and proposal submission tips, has rarely been conspicuous to me.

However, it became clear that Vision2020 is different from the moment I spoke with their senior executives. I could tell immediately that I was speaking to a team with an in-depth, hands-on knowledge of the overall Research and Innovation ecosystem in Europe, as well as a clear vision for moving forward and branching out as a network.

Facts also helped: Vision2020 member organisations include some of the most important research organisations globally, many of which I’ve tried hard to work with before (sometimes unsuccessfully…). Being a member of Vision2020 suddenly unlocked all this potential.

But what really worked for me, was when I participated in a Vision2020 event in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which was co-hosted by the leader of the Health Helix, KU Leuven. There, through a very well organised process, I witnessed network members being helpfully guided towards participation in winning Horizon 2020 consortia and research ideas. 

Immediately after the Ljubljana event, I knew all the necessary contributing factors for successful networking and tangible results are in place:

  • The network administrators (i.e. people with a clear vision and strategy, fully dedicated to maximum success),

  • The quality of members (comprising some of the most important players in the European R&I scene)

  • The working methodology (i.e. an efficient and effective way for building successful  proposals & consortia)

You held some meetings with Vision2020 staff in Athens in 2016. How did these meetings come about and what came from them?

The arrival of Vision 2020 Network executives in Athens was an ideal opportunity to introduce the network to some of the most active in research & innovation (R&I) entities in Greece. Also, it was a good opportunity to share opinions with trusted Greek partners on the extent to which the Vision 2020 Network co-working concept could be applied to an R&I scene with intense peculiarities, such as the Greek one.

Those meetings were a real success: It is far from an overstatement to say that ALL organisations attended those meetings, including the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, the Piraeus University of Applied Sciences and others. Several have already lined up for Vision2020 membership.

As of now, there are about two and a half years left in the current framework period. Although that doesn’t seem like much, it is certainly worth noting that there is still about €30 billion left to be awarded for research and innovation. With this in mind, what do you hope to accomplish by partnering with Vision2020 over the next two years?

A significant part of my professional effort has been dedicated to helping enterprises and organisations move closer to reaching their goals through the exploitation of the EU’s R&I funding framework.

My involvement covers all relevant stages, i.e. from the initial maturation of the research project idea up to project conclusion. Through partnering with Vision2020, I am convinced that this effort will be vertically facilitated through the transfer of knowledge and expertise accumulated in numerous thematic areas (called “helixes” within Vision2020).

On the other hand, being already a member of the Vision2020 family, my main priorities include introducing domestic organisations and enterprises involved in R&I that can really contribute to the overall Vision2020 success.

Horizon 2020 is all about collaboration and Vision2020 has developed a very unique and very efficient environment for collaboration. Yet, success needs one more ingredient: active contribution of all network members to common objectives!

One of the major goals of Vision2020 is to increase the level of engagement of institutions and businesses from Southern and Eastern Europe. What are some of the struggles your region has faced in the past when attempting to collaborate within Horizon 2020 for the purpose of winning funding?

According to a recent study, Greek researchers amount to 3% of the world's most influential scientists (in terms of citations and references), although Greeks globally account for less than 0.20% of the world's 6.92 billion inhabitants.

That is 15 times above the expected norm. Yet, of the above, an estimated 85% have already left the country. This is perhaps indicative of the dynamics prevailing within the Greek research community.

Greece has also been hit by a persistent recession, which has been largely due to severe pathogenesis in the economic and public sphere.  Also, being in the global news so often, and seldom for the right reasons, is not the best starting point for strategic collaborations with top institutions and researchers throughout the EU.

The recession has led to severe cuts in resources that could be directed towards winning Horizon 2020 contracts and as a result, Horizon 2020 participation by Greek research institutions and SMEs is far below the actual capabilities of the Greek R&I community.

There is the strong indication of a fragmented presence in H2020 projects, thus perpetuating the difficulty of maintaining a coordinated and persistent presence.

How do you feel further collaboration and funding will specifically benefit your region?

Current Horizon 2020 participation levels by Greek entities indicate that there is a significant research potential in the region waiting to be unleashed. I strongly believe that international collaboration, exchange of knowledge and adoption of best practices is perhaps the single most important contributing factor to get Greece back on its feet and allow the exploitation of its significant R&I potential, for the benefit of economy and society.

Yet, paraphrasing the famous JFK quote, I often say to persons and organisations trying to benefit from the European Research and Innovation funding framework: Ask not what Horizon 2020 can do for you, ask what you can do for Horizon 2020.

The moment you clarify how you can add value to the European Research and Innovation ecosystem, the very same moment you will know how you can benefit from existing funding and collaboration opportunities.

Teslianum: Bringing up the Western Balkan Region

On behalf of Vision2020: The Horizon Network, I'd like to present the first article in a series of interviews with some of our most active members.

Today, I'd like to welcome Mirjana Prljevic, the Owner and General Manager of TESLIANUM Ltd. Having founded TESLIANUM in 1993, and with offices in Belgrade and Paris, Mirjana has over 20 years of experience in strategic positioning.

In addition, Mirjana has been a guest lecturer at several universities, including the London School of Commerce, Harvard, BIMBA-Beijing International MBA, Antai College Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Moscow Higher School of Economics, and several others.

Her book The Strategy of Positioning as a Key to Success has been translated into seven languages. Mirjana is also a columnist for the Forbes China magazine and has an impressive amount of experience in the domains of Global Strategic Positioning, Sustainable Country Development, New Economic diplomacy, and Energy efficiency. You can find more on www.prljevic.com.

I spoke with Mirjana recently regarding her experience so far with the Vision2020 initiative and how we can work together to increase the amount of Horizon 2020 funding flowing into the Western Balkan region. 

By Cais Jurgens

Hi Mirjana, thanks for joining us. How did you first come across Vision2020?

I first heard about the benefits of becoming a member of Vision2020 from the Brussels office of Horizon 2020 program DG R&D. From there, I wrote to them and expressed interest in becoming a member of this remarkable business- and academia-based family.

The first time I met with Vision2020 staff was in Belgrade at a Workshop organised by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. The second was at Cardiff University at a Vision2020 Energy Helix event. It was then, I must say, that I recognised the potential for a strategic partnership between their network and the Western Balkan Region.

Since then, we've helped several very interesting and prominent businesses become members of Vision2020, including Energoprojekt, one of the biggest companies in Serbian industry, RADEI – Regional Development Agency for European Integration of Belgrade and ECS – An Executive Car Service from the SME sector. 

You recently held a week of events with Vision2020 staff in Belgrade. What would you say was achieved during that week?

Sending the right message to Serbian and Western Balkan Region potential members regarding how to be successful in applications for different program funds of Horizon 2020 can be a very challenging activity. 

Academics and experts from our University and research organisations, SMEs, and big industrial corporates possess a huge interest in participating in Horizon 2020 programs. I was very pleased to recommend to the potential partners in attendance over the course of that week that Vision2020 is the number one partner in this domain.

During a recent meeting in Belgrade with Vision2020 co-founders Abdul Rahim and Michael Browne, we took note of this ever growing interest, as well as the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done to get the West Balkan Region more involved, and went from there.

Furthermore, we felt a strong amount of goodwill from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Belgrade, on behalf of Dean, PhD Radivoje Mitrovic, and State Secretary of Government of The Republic of Serbia, PhD Vladimir Popovic, to establish a group of technical faculties – as a smaller Serbian consortium – which can then be a part of a much larger collaboration effort, once they become full members.

The Helixes on Vision2020's networking platform, Crowdhelix, for which they expressed the most interest are Materials, Manufacturing, Energy, Digital, and Climate. It is my hope that they'll be able to find a number of relevant collaborators within these Helixes and successfully apply for funding. 

What do you hope to accomplish by partnering with Vision2020?

For the moment, work-packages or project coordination activities are not the priority. What is important is finding the appropriate partners within the network to exploit the huge potential of Serbia and other countries in the region. 

As soon as we identify goals and the interests of our members in the Western Balkan region, and work to get more Horizon 2020 projects to Serbia and the rest of the region, we will be stronger as a strategic partner with Vision2020. Overall, that is my goal for the coming year. 

We have an opportunity to offer some incredibly interesting opportunities for collaboration between industry, experienced professors and young researchers desperate for funds.

For me, this is one of the most valuable contributions that Vision2020 makes through the different Helix consortiums. Regarding Teslianum, and how we go about choosing partners, we are certain to give our very best to secure membership only for members that possess, in my opinion, excellence as a trademark of their business activities.

What are some of the struggles your region has faced in the past when attempting to collaborate within Horizon 2020 for the purpose of winning funding?

Serbia and other countries of the Western Balkans region have really suffered a lot in the last few decades, especially, through an enormous exodus of the young and well-educated people.

We are lacking people who work intensively on EU programs, which as you know, is not an easy way to secure funds due to different conditions, different applications, different portfolios for the consortium membership, different strategies, etc.

From the Danube strategy projects to the IPA and IPARD, from the Ionic-Adriatic strategy the right to Horizon 2020, it is not easy for companies, for the government, local municipalities, or for SME's.

Different stakeholders have begun to understand in the last two years that we need to cultivate an integral approach to the different industrial and economic challenges. From targeted ones, such as agriculture and infrastructure projects, to energy and telecommunications.

Regarding Horizon 2020 programs, we have several evaluators, but not so many projects where Serbian organisations have had the opportunity to be project leaders, but much more often as coordinators or WP managers. Now, with more focus and with more integrality at the same time, our struggles, I hope, will be more technical and operational than strategic.

How do you feel further collaboration and funding will specifically benefit your region?

As I said, we need more knowledge and best practice examples to see and understand. Vision2020 is the right network and Crowdhelix is the best platform for finding the right partners for our projects, as well as the experienced people needed on applications. But perhaps, most important of all, we'll have more information on how to successfully apply for Horizon 2020 funding, and I'm looking forward to seeing the benefits in accordance with our efforts.