Mindful Estonian research
“This research project can help us understand the basis for memory, pain and psychological disorders such as depression and stress,” explains Professor Tõnis Timmusk from the Tallinn University of Technology.
The Norwegian-Estonian Research Cooperation programme supports high quality research, strengthens research capacity and stimulates long-term cooperation between Norway and Estonia. The programme receives €3 million in funding from Norway. The research project enhances Estonia's competitive edge, putting it on track for smart growth and helping it to meet its European research and development (R&D) targets.
One of the selected projects examines the impact of different molecules which play an important role in the functioning of the brain. In particular it looks at the impact of molecules vital to learning, memory and higher thinking. The project is expected to provide a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms that support different brain functions and ultimately help us to find more effective treatments for different mental disorders.
“Many research projects of high quality applied for funding from the Norway Grants, so we are pride to be selected," says Professor Timmusk.
Keeping academic talents
One of the key challenges Estonia faces in academia is keeping its research talent in the country. Professor Timmusk, who himself spent 12 years abroad before coming back to Estonia, underlines that his sector is not the worst affected and that many return to Estonia. Still, he identifies some key challenges:
“Estonia is a small country, so we need a critical mass of students at any given time. Furthermore, obtaining funding has become more difficult as a result of the economic crisis, so support from the Norway Grants is very important.”
Indrek Koppel is one of the research assistants involved in the project. Earlier this year, he spent five days together with the Norwegian partners from the University of Bergen to perform experiments related to the project.
“It is very exciting for me to be involved in this project since it gives me the opportunity to explore a research field of great interest. To continue working in research is something I would really like to do,” says Koppel.
Indrek Koppel, research assistant from the Tallinn University of Technology. Photo: Christophe Vander Eecken
Tallinn University of Technology and the University of Bergen are project partners. Together they are merging different techniques and sharing results and experiences. Timmusk stresses the cumulative nature of academic work:
“There is a strong sense of collaboration between us since we are able to draw on each other’s different areas of expertise. There is no point in keeping this research for ourselves. We are much more forceful together.”
Clive R. Bramham, project partner and Professor at the Department of Biomedicine and KG Jebsen Centre for Research on Neuropsychiatric Disorders at the University of Bergen, agrees:
“We study these molecules from different perspectives. Most of the research on neurons takes place in Tallinn, while experiments in vivo take place in Bergen. The aim is to add to our scientific understanding of this field of research.”
Bramham sees the potential for long-term research cooperation:
“We fit together naturally and there is a lot of mutual benefit. I would not be surprised if the cooperation will continue beyond this project.”
About the project
The project started January 2014 and will end December 2016. The project receives €270 000 from the Norway Grants.
Activity-dependent regulation of BDNF and Arc: master genes in synaptic plasticity
Research and Scholarship
Tallinn University of Technology
Type of Institution:
University, college or other teaching institution, research institute or think-tank
Modifiability of neuronal connectivity by formation of new synapses, and alteration of the strength and stability of existing synapses, is regarded as the main cellular basis for memory. The genes encoding neurotrophin BDNF and activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein ARC are the master genes of synaptic plasticity. The objective of this project is to study neuronal activity-regulated expression of BDNF and Arc genes in the nervous system. The project is expected to achieve new knowledge about the molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and memory by taking advantage of the complementary expertise of the groups of prof. Tõnis Timmusk, Tallinn University of Technology, and the donor partner prof. Clive Bramham, University of Bergen. The main target groups are PhD and postdoctoral students. The project and partnership have positive impact on the internationalization of R&D and higher education by attracting foreign competence to Estonia.