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    2nd IBRO-UM5 Advanced Training in Neuroscience School tackles obesity and malnutrition in Africa

    Scientific Report on the 2nd IBRO-UM5 Advanced Training in Neuroscience School: Brain and Nutrition

    6-18 January 2017, Rabat, Morocco

    The second edition of the IBRO-Université Mohammed V (UM5) Advanced Training in Neuroscience School was held in Rabat, Morocco, between 6-18 January 2017, with a focus on “brain and nutrition.” It was an exceptional international event with high quality training and learning opportunities for internationally diverse participants.

    The School's theme of "brain and nutrition" was a highly significant regional topic in the context of food intake (FI) control. Notable physiopathology aspects were addressed - overweight issues and obesity – both of which have been growing at an alarming rate in Africa, especially in countries that are in “nutritional transition.” Increased understanding of the mechanisms leading to this dysregulation is an important step in counteracting these trends. It helps identify the fundamental basis of FI control, especially the specific brain regions and neurochemical systems involved, i.e. orexigenic and anorexigenic factors. The mechanisms of this dysregulation were therefore discussed extensively during the School. Other lectures tackled another problem specific to Africa, malnutrition and its effects on cognitive capacities in humans, particularly in children. Also, knowledge of the morphofunctional and neurochemical traits of FI developed during the School highlighted the importance of FI homeostasis in health and disease. In addition, the themes of the technical workshops focused on current techniques that participants could use in FI research or in another related field.

    The composition of the School consisted of 22 participants selected from 67 eligible applicants. They represented 10 nationalities (Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tunisia), and came from 11 African countries (10 previously noted countries and Senegal). Six were national participants and the remaining 16 were from outside Morocco. The professional profiles were as follows: 3 postdocs; 3 medical doctors (2 neurologists and 1 neuropsychiatric); and 16 PhD students (six of them are lecturers at their universities). Furthermore, the lectures and professional skills and practical workshops were given by 17 instructors, 6 from Europe (3 from France and 3 from Italy) and 11 from Morocco. Three instructors were also IBRO alumni: Samir Ahboucha, a current member of the IBRO Africa Regional Committee (IBRO-ARC), Nezha Bouhaddou and Mariama El Ouahli.

    The School Program included the following sections:

    - Lectures on different aspects of central and peripheral regulation/dysregulation of food intake (7 days)

    - Professional skills (1 day)

    - Oral presentations of students (one half day)

    - Practical workshops (4 days)

    The lectures focused on fundamental physiological aspects of FI control both at central (neuronal and glial components) and peripheral levels, and the signalizing pathways were extensively described. This first part of the lectures familiarized participants with the basics of FI control as well as the key messengers and brain regions involved. This was essential for understanding the following lectures related to physiopathology.

    The next set of lectures introduced FI deregulation and metabolic disorders (anorexia nervosa, obesity, diabetes, etc.), as well as the effects of healthy and unhealthy food on brain functions. This presented an opportunity for the participants to interact with neuropsychiatrists regarding the genesis of eating disorders (in particular, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and obesity), the neural pathways involved and medical treatments. Lectures on diabetes also offered an important emphasis on the role of glucose sensing neurons in the hypothalamus and of incretins in the regulation of glycemia.

    The final lectures covered the relationship between circadian rhythms and metabolism and the status of food intake and metabolism in neurodegenerative pathologies (i.e. Parkinson’s disease). New findings in the field of FI revealed how circadian rhythm problems could drastically affect FI and consequently lead to a pathological state. FI also plays a role in neurodegenerative diseases, emphasizing the gravity of food intake problems. With this foundation of knowledge established by the School, participants were informed of the main aspects of FI research related to the brain.

    Professional skills development activities provided by the School were dedicated to writing abstracts and scientific papers as well as preparing CVs and discussing funding opportunities. These important skills were developed by Dr. Marina Bentivoglio, IBRO Past Secretary General and Professor at the University of Verona, Italy, who was able to interact frequently with the participants during the 3 days. The session dedicated to the Journal Club and a series of presentations concerning African networking in research and funding opportunities were also very successful.

    The last program component - the practical workshops - included 4 sections:

    - Behavioural tests

    - Assessing circadian rhythms

    - Immunohistochemistry

    - Molecular biology

    The first three practical investigations took place in the “Neurosciences Laboratory” of local organizer, Professor Nouria Lakhdar Ghazal, in the Faculty of Sciences at Mohamed V University, Rabat. Then practical techniques in molecular biology were taught by Professor M. El Fahime from the National Scientific and Technological Research (CNRS, Rabat). He gave an overview of approaches that participants could easily use in their investigations when they returned home (especially for behavioural tests and circadian rhythms assessment). Immunohistochemistry work included an entire experimentation to allow participants to go through all procedural steps. It was run by a mixed team of scientists from both the University of Mohamed V and the Biological Engineering Laboratory of Sultan Moulay Slimane University.

    Overall, School participants found the theme “brain and nutrition” highly relevant and interesting due to the impact of external/environmental factors on FI as well as the effects of food on the brain, principally related to eating disorders. A think thank even operated during the training course to focus on the possibility of integrating information learned at the School into the future research plans of participants. In addition, the instructors were pleasantly surprised by the high level of interaction with participants and, for several of them, it was the first time they had given lectures to African participants. The School permitted a unique training experience for all participants to focus on FI research and discover research opportunities in Morocco and greater Africa, building real opportunities for South-South scientific cooperation in the future.

    - Mohamed Najimi, PhD

    To learn more about the IBRO Africa Centers for Advanced Training in Neuroscience, click here.