About Brain Mapping Research with Economically Disadvantaged Countries
Letter to the Scientific Community from the General Assembly of the Latin American Brain Mapping Network (LABMAN)
We have discussed today at the General Assembly of LABMAN the state of Brain Mapping Research in our countries. We have much to be proud of our potential contributions to world science and health care could be significant. However, we also very concerned about factors that limit our global impact.
We live in exciting times. Never have so many researchers been engaged in studying the brain.
Never have there been such an international engagement with so much funding for Global Brain Projects. Yet there are two interrelated problems that LABMAN has insisted on in several recent international meetings1 which we bring again to your attention:
- There is insufficient effort to effectively translate the current avalanche of fundamental findings into results that will affect Global Health in all countries, independently of their economic situation.
- Scientists from countries with emerging economies are essentially excluded from participating in this world Brain Endeavour due to lack of funding.
Translational research in brain mapping is often hindered in countries with wealthy economy due to the excessive reliance on market mechanisms for Neurotechnological solutions that then fail to provide inexpensive solutions for primary health care and prevention. A prime example of this neglect of translation (that LABMAN has repeatedly pointed) out is the exclusion in several costly projects of less expensive imaging technologies (such as EEG or NIRS) for later more widespread use. This lack of a public health strategy impacts negatively on the economically disadvantaged populations even in these more prosperous countries. The situation is even more complex in the countries of emerging economies such as Latin America. For them, cost/effective solutions for prevention of brain disorders is not only an economic imperative but also a fundamental way to preserve the most valuable resource of these populations: their mental capital.
There is a significant critical mass of neuroscientists in Latin America who not only produce first rate science but are also engaged in finding solution for problems that affect the societies they live in. Yet funding for this work is not only dwindling nationally, and in the region, but is also almost impossible to access from agencies in wealthier countries. This situation not only marginalizes the potential contribution of these researchers but is self‐defeating in terms of excluding from the search for solution the people best acquainted with local conditions. It is heartening to see several national and global initiatives to provide funding for research on brain disorders with emphasis on lower and middle income countries (LMIC). However, we find
Many of these initiatives marked by a fatal flaw: the exclusion of senior scientists from these economically disadvantaged regions. Let us point out some examples:
- We have participated in the launch of educational programs for young scientists from our region, but disconnected from promoting actions with senior researchers from their own regions or country. This is a formula for increasing the bran‐drain.
- On the other hand, we have also seen initiatives for developing method and technology for population studies in LMIC. In these, the role of our scientists is mainly to provide data but not to participate in designing or directing the research. For the reasons stated before this is a suboptimal solution—our scientific communities are very well equipped to contribute to global solutions.
- Another proposal is that the high‐level data should be gathered in those countries with the resources. LMIC scientists can then contribute by analyzing this data. While worthwhile possibility it is also not a complete answer since patient populations and local conditions to solved cannot be transmitted via internet.
We hope that the international scientific community will understand our concerns. We need coordinate action to raise awareness in the national and regional funding agencies of LMIC to match international efforts in brain research. Importantly the funding agencies of more Higher Income counties should be made aware of the contribution that scientists from our regions are able and willing to make.
Prof. Dr. Pedro Antonio Valdés‐Sosa
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1 Notably in 2017 at the OHBM meets WHO session at the 21st Congress of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping Project 30 June and the meeting at of the Global Brain Projects with WHO at its headquarters in Geneva on the 1 July. In addition, at the OECD meeting in Washington on Responsible Brain Research, and the Meeting of the Global Brain Projects at Rockefeller Center that year.