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EU cuts could pull plug on Human Brain Project

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Geneva's Campus Biotech, former home to Merck Serono, is set to host the threatened Human Brain Poject this year. Photo: Merck
22:10 CET+01:00
The Human Brain Project, a mammoth research project directed by the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), is in danger of dying because of last month's vote by Swiss citizens to curb immigration in Switzerland.

That is the assessment of the project’s South African expat director Henry Markram, who says funding for the project may be pulled by the European Union, its main backer.

The EU has called into question all bilateral agreements with Switzerland after the February 9th referendum.

Citizens voted against the freedom of movement of labour accord between Switzerland and the EU.

“It may well be that the research (funding) policy will be a victim,” brain researcher Markram is quoted as telling the German-language weekly Schweiz am Sonntag.

“By 2016, the European Commission will have invested only 54 million euros of the announced half a billion ($688 million) in our project,” he said.

The project, a sophisticated brain simulation exercise, involves 500 researchers from 22 countries, who aim to gain new insights into brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as well as in computing.

While other countries are involved, the project, announced last year to much fanfare, is Swiss-based.

“We have founded, developed and co-financed the project at EPFL,” Markram said.

“The infrastructure here is unique — without Switzerland the Human Brain Project dies,” he told Schweiz am Sonntag.

It is one of the “biggest scientific projects of all time”, promising advances for Switzerland’s neurological research and its pharmaceutical industry, while aiding in the development of new computer systems.

The billion-euro-plus project was to move into Geneva’s Campus Biotech this year.

Swiss universities have already raised the alarm about the threat of losing hundreds of millions of euros in research agreements from Brussels.

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