Neurological and psychiatric diseases account for about 10% of the world’s overall disease burden, and the annual cost to the European Union alone approaches €1 trillion.

During much of the 20th century neurological progress consisted mainly in describing an ever-increasing number of ways that brain function could be deranged, with scant regard to treating patients. As for psychiatric disease, this remained fertile ground for speculation, little of which led to rational treatments. Our understanding of brain disease has recently been revolutionized by careful neuropathology, advances in fundamental neuroscience and genetics, and by the invention of CT and MRI scans and electrical recordings to see inside the skull. Even for diseases where these methods are of limited use, well-designed clinical trials are leading to improved treatments, albeit mainly for symptom control.

A major challenge is to develop ways of arresting the progressive loss of neurons that occurs in many brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (motor neuron disease) and multiple sclerosis.  Although some treatments have been shown to work in animal models, clinical translation is slow and expensive. Another challenge is to maintain engagement from the pharmaceutical industry to invest in diseases where answers may take many years to emerge. Worryingly, several big pharmaceutical companies have moved their R&D out of the UK, citing hostility to animal experimentation among reasons to do so. Others have pulled out of psychiatric disease completely following unsuccessful clinical trials.

The British Neuroscience Association is the voice of brain research in the UK, which punches above its weight internationally, both in fundamental neuroscience and in translation to disease mechanisms and treatments.