Annual Report 2015
01 Who we are
02 Message from the President
and the Director
03 2015 highlights
04 Investing in Europe's diversity
05 The year in numbers
06 Success stories
07 2015 events
08 In the headlines
01 Who we are
Who we are COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is a funding agency for research and innovation networks. Our Actions help connect research initiatives across Europe and enable scientists to grow their ideas by sharing them with their peers. This boosts their research, career and innovation. Who can get involved?
Researchers, engineers and scholars from universities, public and private institutions, NGOs, industry and SMEs. Particular emphasis is placed on activities involving researchers from Inclusiveness Target Countries with a view to increase their participation. Researchers from Near Neighbour Countries and International Partner Countries can also take part in a COST Action on the basis of mutual benefit.
COST does not fund research, but provides support for networking activities carried out within COST Actions. In this way, it coordinates nationally funded research. COST invites researchers across Europe to submit proposals for Actions through a continuous open call, no matter what their field of interest is.
COST Action funding Average funding totals â‚Ź137 000 per year for a network of 24 countries. It is provided via an annual grant agreement for a period of four years.
Action networking tools
SHORT-TERM SCIENTIFIC MISSIONS
>O pening doors for young researchersâ€™ careers >F ostering cooperation by giving scientists the opportunity to visit an institution or laboratory in another COST country
WHO WE ARE
Excellence & Inclusiveness policy The policy is tailored to foster scientific excellence throughout Europe by providing cooperation opportunities for researchers, engineers and scholars in 20 less research-intensive COST Member Countries. They are
also known as Inclusiveness Target Countries, which COST helps connect to the knowledge hubs of the European Research Area.
COST Member Countries
Inclusiveness Target Countries (out of 36)
Inclusiveness Target Countries
COST Near Neighbour countries
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey.
Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Russia, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.
COST International Partner countries Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Mexico, Namibia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sudan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, USA and Uruguay.
02 Message from the President and the Director
The stories of COST Actions of 2015, which are presented in this report, provide evidence of the enormous creative power of our networks and their important contribution to innovation.
Message from the President of the COST Association, Dr Ángeles Rodríguez Peña
Our commitment to embrace diversity In 2015 the COST governing body, a group of national government representatives on the Committee of Senior Officials, turned its attention and energy to imagining COST beyond 2020. We asked ourselves important questions for the COST Association, which provides a unique space for scientists to grow their ideas and concepts. We asked, what do European research communities need in order to excel, understand, invent and innovate? What does COST need, and what can we offer? How can we position ourselves better in the evolving and very competitive funding environment? How can we better leverage what makes us different? How can we explain our special value, describe the practical benefits, and make them tangible? How to secure sufficient future funding for our COST Actions? How to increase our contribution to political objectives, such as moves towards better integration of European countries? This was no exercise in self-contemplation. We were trying to understand if we are fully meeting the needs of our European scientists and innovators. We created two CSO working groups, one to develop a strategy for COST beyond Horizon 2020, and another to consider how the COST Excellence and Inclusiveness policy can be refined and whether its impact can be better portrayed. This was the context for our debate on how we can offer even better support for European research and innovation and foster diversity. We developed a long-term strategic approach that positions COST as the leading open-networking tool in the European Research Area.
We know from COST Action participation data that COST performs very well in putting diversity into practice. It is particularly effective at involving the new generation of research leaders and integrating researchers from lessconnected geographic regions to the leading European knowledge hubs and communities. Many people within the large COST network testified to this strong performance in our petition for stable and sufficient budgets, which obtained more than 10 500 signatures by the end of 2015. These testimonials highlight the crucial importance of discussing science in open and dynamic networks. Many of these testimonials are included in this report. They offer very personal experiences from scientists, in their own words, to illustrate what can be difficult to show in numbers and quantitative data: that COST Actions offer a unique space where ideas and people can grow without limits. The stories of COST Actions, which are presented in this 2015 report, provide evidence of the enormous creative power of our networks and their important contribution to innovation. In a highly competitive scientific environment, with pressing societal and economic challenges, we must think of Excellence and Inclusiveness, not as opposites but prerequisites. We can only achieve our ambitions for Europe if we create open, diverse and dynamic environments. This is the essence of COST Actions.
Introduction from the Director of the COST Association, Dr Ronald de Bruin
Designing and building open spaces for research and innovation COST has long been a space for scientists to grow their own ideas. Since 2014, the research network funding programme has been implemented by the COST Association, strongly committed to optimise its scientific organisation and related processes, leading to deep changes and renewal. Looking back, the evolution of COST has been considerable. It has evolved from a research networking funding programme, administered through a Secretariat managed by a third party, to become an independent international association under Belgian law. It has shifted from a domain-structured programme, to a new scientific organisation that strengthens the multi- and interdisciplinary side of modern science, with a highlevel scientific committee at its heart. It has made the transition from a lengthy and complicated open call process, to a truly bottom-up, simplified, and streamlined one-step submission process that offers comprehensive feedback to proposers. This has all happened through considerable organisational efforts that have been driven by the goal of benefitting researchers and scientists, both those already in our networks and those we would like to attract.
That is because science is essentially about people. Not about knowledge factories nor data. Without people and their empowerment, there is no progress. We must create an environment that systematically puts the focus on people, that makes their ideas prosper, and that encourages them to take initiatives. Science needs free, open spaces that can harness innovative thinking, fresh perspectives, and wider understanding. I will be building on this movement of renewal that is already well underway, to make COST an even more high-performing and future-proof endeavour that never loses sight of our belief in open, ideas-oriented, and people-driven, inclusive science communities. This is my mission as newly appointed Director, and I am highly committed to it. As the wise scientist and priest, William G. Pollard, observed, â€œlearning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.â€?
Without people and their empowerment, there is no progress. We must create an environment that systematically puts the focus on people, that makes their ideas prosper, and that encourages them to take initiatives.
03 2015 Highlights
The new open call for Action proposals
Partnership with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre
In 2015, 66 Actions received funding under the new open call. The new process ensures a simple, transparent and competitive evaluation and selection, in line with the bottom-up, open and inclusive nature of COST. The COST Association published new guidelines and an infographic in order to explain the new, simplified process. Applicants were requested to indicate up to five relevant research areas from the six OECD fields of Science and Technology. Results showed that funded proposals were highly interdisciplinary: more than half were related to two or three main fields, with natural sciences, engineering & technology and medical & health sciences as the leading fields. Overall, almost a third of participants were early-career researchers, while a quarter of participants were based in an Inclusiveness Target Country. The autumn collection data showed one in three network leaders was female.
The two organisations signed an agreement designed to strengthen their collaboration and coordinate more science and technology networking activities in fields of common interest, particularly environment and climate change, energy, transport, agriculture and food security, health and consumer protection, information society, technological advances, innovation and standardisation. This would ensure that old and new JRC and COST grantees would exchange expertise and resources more efficiently and engage more peers across Europe.
COST Association President Dr Ángeles Rodríguez Peña and Director-General of the JRC, Dr Vladimir Šucha
04 APRIL New scientific organisation The COST Association replaced the domain committee structure by setting up a scientific committee at the heart of its new scientific organisation. The Association’s governing board appointed renowned, independent European researchers, proposed by each COST member country and the cooperating state. The new committee is instrumental to the overall supervision and quality control of the new evaluation and selection procedure, as well as for the monitoring of Actions. It will also advise the governing board on the COST science and technology strategy.
Openness is really part of COST’s DNA. Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
COST meets Commissioner Carlos Moedas
Montenegro, a new COST Member Country
In September 2015, the new Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, met with the former COST Association Director and the President to discuss the role of COST in promoting open science and open innovation across Europe. Acknowledging the importance of COST’s partnership with the European Commission, Commissioner Moedas agreed that openness was one of the core values of COST.
Montenegro became the 36th COST Member Country in May 2015. Montenegrin researchers had already been actively involved in COST Actions since 2007, given the country’s Near Neighbour status. Forestry, ICT and environmental sciences are the leading fields of interest.
They also discussed opportunities to boost awareness about the framework and its future impact on science and technology innovation.
Commissioner Moedas with Dr Ángeles Rodríguez Peña and the former COST Association Director, Dr Monica Dietl
The country’s full member status entitles researchers, engineers and scholars from Montenegro to make the best of COST networking opportunities. As one of the 20 Inclusiveness Target Countries, Montenegro will also help connect bright minds with Europe’s top scientific communities.
Montenegro full member country, Dr Ángeles Rodríguez Peña and Mr Darko Petrušić
04 Investing in Europe's diversity
Investing in Europe's diversity
The short-term scientific missions are a great help to promote mobility for young researchers and students, providing a valuable opportunity to visit top institutions and carry out cutting-edge research. Luisa Valente, Full Professor, University of Porto
01 Breaking down barriers Pooling resources and creating dynamic research communities across Europe remain key challenges in Europeâ€™s scattered and sprawling research landscape. We cannot meet that challenge without tackling a range of imbalances in terms of levels of national and sector involvement, career stage and gender. COST policy is tailored to address these imbalances by bringing out excellence in science and technology Europe-wide, clearing away obstacles by creating cooperation opportunities for researchers, engineers and scholars from all COST Member Countries.
> COST policy helps to break down the barriers that researchers, engineers and scholars encounter.
> One of those barriers is location. Some COST countries do not have an intensive research environment or their research communities are not well connected within Europe. In some, there is no synergy between research funded at the national- and EU-levels.
COST has identified those Member Countries that face the greatest obstacles to research - those that have unequal access to knowledge infrastructures, funding and resources - as Inclusiveness Target Countries (ITC). The list of COST ITCs can be consulted at: www.cost.eu/about_cost/strategy/excellenceinclusiveness
> Another barrier is the difficulty that young researchers and PhD candidates encounter in being recognised and included in research projects before they have been able to establish a long track record.
>G ender is another clear barrier in an environment where women make up 60% of university graduates in Europe but only 20% of full professors. This represents enormous expertise and intellect that the science and technology community cannot afford to lose.
INVESTING IN DIVERSITY
02 Tools for diversity COST strives to eliminate these barriers through policy and financial commitment. COST is committed to spending half of the funding it receives through Horizon 2020 for the benefit of ITCs. This commitment is materialised as funding for COST Action activities that build leadership by encouraging researchers from ITCs countries to take more active roles, to set up or conduct COST Actions or manage COST Action grants. The new open call evaluation system stipulates that when proposals receive similar scores, the scientific committee can give a preference to proposals that have a stronger strategy for reaching out to less connected institutions and involving younger researchers.
COST has been critical for my career, by building a network connecting me to all leading scientists in my research area. COST is doing the same to my PhD students today, motivating them to stay in Bulgaria but also to work on the state-of-the-art in the field. Guergana Guerova, Associate Professor, Sofia University
Inclusiveness Target Countries' involvement in COST Actions is far greater than the relative size of their research communities, in comparison with other COST Member Countries
Progress There are currently 20 countries designated as Inclusiveness Target Countries among the 36 COST Member Countries1. In the European Research Area, the proportion of researchers from Inclusiveness Target Countries is about 18% of the total number of researches, calculated on a Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) basis. However, Inclusiveness Target Countries represent 29% of COST Action participants.
1 Including Montenegro, who joined COST in 2015 and therefore not yet included in the current statistics. 2 COST data are based on country participation, while H2020 data are based on individual participation.
Compared with Horizon 2020 projects, COST has demonstrable success in integrating ITC researchers. In 2015, an Inclusiveness Target Country was involved in more than half (57%) of the 347 running Actions. Every Action had at least one Inclusiveness Target Country represented in its core group. On the other hand, Inclusiveness Target Countries' participation in Horizon 2020 projects is only 3.2%2 (168 projects out of 5 306 signed grant agreements). Inclusiveness Target Countries' involvement in COST Actions is far greater than the relative size of their research communities (based on the total number of FTE researchers per country, as provided by Eurostat), as the graph on the next page illustrates.
INVESTING IN EUROPE'S DIVERSITY
The COST programme is the only outlet for many researchers from the South and the East European countries. Stavroula Pantazopoulou, Full Professor, University of Cyprus
Participation in COST activities, relative to national research capacity *
Human resources devoted to R&D activities full-time equivalence in R&D
Bosnia and Herzegovina
COST Inclusiveness Target Countries
other COST Member Countries
* Calculated per 1 000 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) in research & development
As the age and gender distribution in COST activities illustrates, COST is a good platform for young researchers and female scientists. The picture is even more accentuated in COST Inclusiveness Target Countries.
Participation in COST activities by age group and gender COST Inclusiveness Target Countries 1 000
Other COST Member Countries 2 000
21-25 26-30 31-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 51-55 56-60 61-65
COST Actions are the best available instrument to foster cooperation between groups across Europe. The procedures for applying and running the Action have minimal bureaucracy. It allows young researchers to initiate their career in an international environment (short-term scientific missions), which is vital for Inclusiveness Countries. COST has been the origin of many research projects and fruitful cooperation. Piotr Warszynski, Full Professor, J. Haber Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences
INVESTING IN EUROPE'S DIVERSITY
The growing Inclusiveness Target Countries' participation in running COST Actions and in eligible proposals is a positive sign of their performance in COST activities over the last five years. This reflects progress towards the overarching COST goal of making a lasting difference by accelerating the structural changes that are necessary to improve the research systems in COST countries.
Female researchers in COST activities
4 110 4 000
Female researchers' participation in COST activities has gone up 158% over the last five years.
COST Actions have provided a unique opportunity to initiate and continue international cooperation. It seems of special significance for young researchers who do not have big grants on their own. Moreover, availability of such funds is of exceptional importance for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which provide limited governmental funding for R&D activities. Ewa Swiezewska, Full Professor, institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences
05 The year in numbers
The year in numbers
347 266 137 000 Running Actions
2 962 45 000 300
short-term scientific missions
Average annual budget of a COST Action
COST budget (from Horizon 2020 for a 7-year period)
COST Inclusiveness Target Countries - represent COST full Member Countries that fulfil the Horizon 2020 Widening eligibility conditions, being either an EU Member State or an Associated Country in connection with the EU Framework Programme. Inclusiveness Target Countries include: Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Republic of Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey.
Short-term scientific missions - these missions (interlaboratory exchange visits) aim to strengthen the existing COST Actions by allowing scientists to go to an institution or laboratory in another COST Country to foster cooperation, learn a new technique or take measurements using instruments and/or methods not available in their own institution/laboratory. They are particularly intended for early-stage researchers.
THE YEAR IN NUMBERS
Member Countries' participation in any COST Action activity 300
Member Countries' participation in an Action's core group
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina
* No relation to a country's research capacity COST Inclusiveness Target Countries other COST Member Countries
Science and technology areas
ENGINEERING/TECHNOLOGY Civil engineering 13 Electrical engineering 13 4 Mechanical engineering Chemical engineering 8 Materials engineering 19 Medical engineering 16 9 Environmental engineering Biotechnology 3 Nanotechnology 13
Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials
NATURAL SCIENCES Mathematics Computer/information sciences Physical sciences Chemical sciences Earth/environmental sciences Biological Sciences
4 23 12 11 29 9
Health, demographic change and wellbeing
MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES Basic medicine Clinical medicine Health sciences Medical biotechnology
8 20 19 10
AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES Agriculture, forestry, fisheries Animal and dairy science Veterinary science Agricultural biotechnology
Psychology 1 Economics and Business 4 Educational sciences 3 Sociology 12 Law 2 Political science 6 Social and economic geography 11 Media/communications 5
Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research, and the bioeconomy
Secure, clean and efficient energy
HUMANITIES History/archaeology 4 Languages/literature 5 Philosophy/religion 2 Arts 1
Inclusiveness Target Countriesâ€™ participation in running Actions (average involvement in the running Actions' core groups)
27 5 6 10
Europe in a changing world - inclusive, innovative and reflective societies
Secure societies - protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens
Smart, green and integrated transport
43 % 1/3
increase since 2012
57 % 2015
THE YEAR IN NUMBERS
Researchers in Inclusive Target Countries involved in COST Action proposals*
Early-career investigators involved in COST Actions
4 400 4 200
75% 17 693
3 200 3 000 14 000
2 800 2 600
2 200 2 000
* Only one collection date in 2014, due to the new open call preparations
Female participation in COST Member Countries
Female participation in Inclusive Target Countries
INCLUSIVE TARGET COUNTRIES
Participation in COST Activities by age group and gender COST Inclusiveness Target Countries 1 000
Other COST Member Countries 2 000
1 000 age
21-25 26-30 31-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 51-55 56-60 61-65
06 Success stories
Defining tomorrow’s Internet of Things In an ever more connected world, mobile communications need more bandwidth and more energy to keep up with the growing demand for ultra-fast, high-quality internet services.
The latest studies show that smartphones alone will represent around 80% of the total mobile data traffic. European researchers are now building faster and more resilient networks, setting the standards for the 5th generation of mobile communications, or 5G. These networks are expected to change the way people communicate and do business, and will bring along new functionalities and services with considerable economic and social benefits. 5G services are expected to become available in 2020. COST Action IC1004 is a network of around 500 researchers and industry representatives who defined the real-life scenarios of today’s Internet of Things – a technology connecting people and objects anytime, anywhere. Building on the work of previous COST-funded
networks, IC1004 analysed the challenges of developing network architectures that are strong enough to meet future demand. One of them is the radio spectrum, already a scarce public resource. Trying to find new ways of using it, researchers in IC1004 have been testing both lower and higher radio frequencies, in order to measure how the radio signal propagates and to avoid interference. Testing led to new, publicly available radio propagation models that researchers can use for simulations in cities. The new radio models were based on different use cases such as connected cars for traffic safety, machine-to-machine communications for smart energy management and emergency situations, and interconnected sensors and carry-on devices or implants that monitor people’s health.
The network’s members built the scenarios as part of EU-funded research projects such as WINNER+ and METIS, representing almost €30 million in EU funding in total. With a third of participants representing telecom giants Ericsson, Siemens, Deutsche Telekom or Telefonica, the tight-knit group also helped set new technical standards. Their expertise is also reflected in a list of research priorities for future EU-funded research projects. “The best thing about being part of a COST Action? We’re all colleagues here, learning from one another”, says Action leader Prof. Narcis Cardona (Universitat Politecnica de Valencia). IC1004, along with all previous COST Actions in this field, helped place European research in the driving seat of innovation. Some of the IC1004 group recently set up a new network, IRACON, which will help share results and boost research beyond 5G. “COST networks are about sharing results and giving young researchers a real chance to stand out through mentorship and constructive discussions”, Prof. Cardona adds.
The best thing about being part of a COST Action? We’re all colleagues here, learning from one another. Prof. Narcis Cardona, Polytechnic University of Valencia
â€˜Toxic gasesâ€™ as targets for new medicines Gases once thought of only as environmental pollutants are now known to be produced by the body. They could potentially be used to develop drugs to treat diseases including heart failure and cancer.
Gasotransmitter training school, Capri, Italy, 2014
Think of carbon monoxide (CO) and the chances are you will recall tragic stories of poisoning caused by a gas leak. Similarly, hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and nitrogen oxide (NO) were once known only for their negative impacts. However, decades of research have revealed that while inhaling large volumes of these gases can be dangerous, they are produced in small quantities throughout the body. Not only are they not harmful in tiny doses, it turns out these gases – known as gasotransmitters – are essential to good health. “Many diseases are caused by too much or too little of these gases,” says Andreas Papapetropoulos, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Athens. “Understanding their role in the body could have clinical applications.” Professor Papapetropoulos is chair of COST Action BM1005 which has been working to identify new biological actions of gasotransmitters and translate this knowledge into gasotransmitter-related drugs. This could eventually allow doctors to restore balance where there is too much or too little of these gases.
More than 250 biologists and chemists from 23 countries have been developing methods to better measure gasotransmitters in cells and have been studying the mechanism of action of NO, CO and H2S.
More than 250 biologists and chemists from 23 countries have been developing methods to better measure gasotransmitters in cells and have been studying the mechanism of action of NO, CO and H2S. They have been developing and evaluating compounds that regulate the amount of gasotransmitters in the body, in collaboration with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that have experience in this field. “One area we have identified as having real potential is cardiovascular disease,” says Professor Papapetropoulos. “H2S protects the heart against ischemia which occurs during a heart attack. NO also lowers blood pressure which in turn reduces the risk of stroke.” Prompting the body to release more of these protective gases in the heart could save lives. In the digestive system however, too much H2S is associated with colon cancer. “Work done by network members and others has identified H2S-producing enzymes that are present in increased numbers in cancer. H2S inhibitors could be used to inhibit colon and breast cancer growth and this is a subject for future preclinical and clinical study,” Professor Papapetropoulos says. More than 40 collaborative research papers have been published as a direct result of the gasotransmitters network and a wealth of knowledge, skills, expertise and reagents have been shared among participants. The next step for this area of study is to explore how these three gasotransmitters interact with one another. With a growing network of young researchers dedicated to this field, Europe is well-placed to capitalise on a fast-growing field. “We have made good progress in unifying this research area in Europe and we have also contributed on a global scale. This Action has helped to make Europe the primary player in this field,” says Professor Papapetropoulos.
Work done by network members and others has identified H2S-producing enzymes that are present in in creased numbers in cancer. H2S inhibitors could be used to inhibit colon and breast cancer growth. Andreas Papapetropoulos, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Athens
Measuring brain blood flow helps diagnose dementia Dementia is a major brain disease associated with memory loss, personality changes and confusion. It can rob people of their independence and cause profound distress for individuals and their families.
The condition also represents a significant economic burden. Caring for people affected by dementia accounts for around 1% of global GDP. In Europe, where the number of people aged over 65 is growing, the impact of neurodegenerative diseases could rise.
MRI machines can show anatomical changes in the brain, such as the loss of dying neurones due to Alzheimer’s disease. A technique, known as Arterial Spin Labelling (ASL), offers something new: a non-invasive way to measure blood flow to the brain.
While the pharmaceutical industry continues to work on therapies that could stem the progression of the illness, imaging experts are developing technologies that can diagnose dementia – even before patients notice classic symptoms such as memory loss.
By magnetising blood in major arteries and following its path to the brain, experts can deduce whether brain cells are being nourished with the oxygen and glucose they need to survive. Low rates of blood flow – known as perfusion – to neuronal cells suggests something may be wrong.
[Our work] has really changed the field, reshaping it in amazing way. This allows all of us using ASL in neurodegeneration to compare our results and it has even been taken up by the three main vendors of MRI machines. Xavier Golay, Professor at the University College London
COST Action BM1103 brought together a network of over 200 scientists and clinicians, working alongside industry partners, to develop this cost-effective diagnostic tool that uses the ASL technique. The key was to provide researchers and clinicians with a reliable and comparable way to measure the tell-tale signs of dementia.
“It has really changed the field, reshaping it in amazing way,” says Professor Golay. “This allows all of us using ASL in neurodegeneration to compare our results and it has even been taken up by the three main vendors of MRI machines – GE Healthcare, Siemens Healthcare, and Philips Healthcare. In terms of impact this is huge.”
“After 15 years of developing ASL around the world, there were a plethora of methodologies and techniques,” says Professor Xavier Golay of University College London. “It was a nightmare for anyone who wanted to work in this field because they did not know where to start or how to achieve the best results.”
As another outcome of the Action, Professor Golay’s spin-out company – Gold Standard Phantoms Limited – has raised £1.1 million from the UK’s National Health Service to improve the calibration of ASL devices in order to ensure consistent and reliable results.
Through a COST-funded meeting in Amsterdam in October 2012, members of the COST Action joined forces to find the best possible method to measure perfusion, based on a thorough analysis of the literature. This led to a paper aimed at people working in this area. It was finally published in January 2015 and has become a reference for scientists in the field.
Full team meeting, Brussels, 2012
Members of this Action are working with the Quantitative Imaging Biomarkers Alliance (QIBA) to have ASL recognised globally as a biomarker for dementia, and members continue to collaborate through the ASL Network.
Targeting brain chemistry to beat disease Diagnosing and treating neuropsychiatric disorders are among the biggest challenges in modern medicine. While the brain is highly complex, scientists have been learning more about how it works – and what happens when things go wrong.
For many brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy, there are no medicines, or existing therapies do not work for all patients. Proteins that affect neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin could hold the key to finding new treatments. Thanks to advances in big data and medicinal chemistry, scientists can screen thousands of molecules in the search for promising new drug candidates. “Computational chemistry offers an opportunity to look for untapped potential by searching for protein structures that might play a role in the brain,” says Professor Rona Ramsay, University of St. Andrews. “This is the payoff for decades of crystallography work on molecular structures. Machine learning also allows for the repurposing of existing drugs which have not been tested for certain neurological diseases.” Professor Ramsay chaired COST Action CM1103, which brought together chemists and biologists to focus on brain diseases where new therapies are needed. One of the areas she has been exploring is the potential of ‘dirty drugs’ – molecules that interact with several targets in the brain.
Professor Ramsay chaired COST Action CM1103, which brought together chemists and biologists to focus on brain diseases where new therapies are needed.
“We can now design drugs to hit specific targets. In Alzheimer’s, for example, we are developing drugs to keep acetylcholine, dopamine and serotonin in the synapses for longer; add an anti-oxidant to prevent damage caused by dying brain cells; then add a metal to ‘mop up’ oxidants which would otherwise cause problems,” explains Professor Ramsay. To achieve this, multidisciplinary networks have to design molecular structures and test them in brain cells and animal models. Participants in the network have filed a patent on one potential treatment and plan to move forward with a view to clinical development. Other participating groups have collaborated on a technique which enables them to measure electrical firing in the brain and monitor changes in the levels of neurotransmitters – opening the door to a deeper understanding of the brain. The network also led to new strategies for treating epilepsy, a novel way to assess new compounds in animals, and an original theory on how dopamine neurotransmitters are oxidised. The biggest value of this COST Action, according to Professor Ramsay, arose from partnerships between academics and the valuable exposure to other disciplines that it offered younger researchers. This is echoed by Dr Katrina Nikolic, University of Belgrade, Serbia, who uses computer programs to design new compounds. “Our collaboration with organic chemists in Spain, Germany and the UK allowed us to test compounds which could become drugs for Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “This is very important for labs like ours and a big step forward for my career.”
Final Action meeting, Istanbul, 2015
Almost half of participants were from COST Inclusiveness Target Countries, which Professor Ramsay describes as a particularly “enriching” aspect of the network. “I’m also very proud that 50% of our network was female at the outset – not many Actions in chemistry can say that!” The network is currently finalising an e-book of its research results and many of its members continue to collaborate. Members in Spain, the UK and Germany are developing a three-in-one compound that can target three brain receptors linked to Alzheimer’s disease in a single drug. Members from Italy and Turkey are running an EU-funded project training 12 PhD students in neuroscience research, focusing on neurodegeneration, neurotherapeutics development and neurorepair. Each student also receives 3-5 months training on cutting- edge technology within a company from the industry.
ur collaboration with organic chemists in Spain, Germany O and the UK allowed us to test compounds which could become drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. This is very important for labs like ours and a big step forward for my career. Dr Katrina Nikolic, University of Belgrade
A changing Sun, a changing climate? The Sun’s impact on our planet’s climate has recently been a hotly debated topic in the context of climate change. The controversy around this issue has led scientists across Europe to dig deeper into the claim that solar activity could be a major cause of global warming.
In the 1980s, research showed that the Sun’s radiation levels varied, which naturally invited the question – does solar variability affect our climate? Despite new evidence that solar variability does have a small impact, scattered scientific studies have not helped improve how the Sun’s variations were assessed. In 2011, European researchers set up TOSCA, an international network aiming to offer a better understanding of the Sun’s effect on climate, against the backdrop of global warming. Over 100 specialists in solar physics, geomagnetism, climate modelling or atmospheric chemistry got together to explore this topic in a new way. Previously, analyses of the Sun-Earth relationship has focused on measuring the Sun’s total solar irradiation, or variations in solar radiation. “It’s like measuring the wealth of a country only by looking at its GDP”,
Dr Thierry Dudok de Wit (University of Orléans, France) points out. Climate studies have long been focusing on similar mechanisms individually, which is why TOSCA opted for a global approach, by bringing on board experts from different research communities. “Our biggest achievement was changing the way we interacted, by looking at Earth-solar connections as a whole, not individually”, adds Dr Thierry Dudok de Wit, leading the Action. The group set out to get a better idea of the physical and chemical mechanisms driving such variations, and how impactful they were. Understanding their mechanisms also helps paint a better picture of the link between solar variability and climate change.
TOSCA enabled me to identify the most pressing knowledge gaps, which I could personally contribute to, and see how to effectively communicate my findings back to an interdisciplinary community. Thanks to the network, I was able to grow as a researcher at a critical time in my career. Dr Benjamin Laken, Research Software Developer, University College London
By comparing recent measurements with results from new models, the network challenged the longdebated assumption that the Sun’s slight change in radiation could cause the Earth’s climate to change. They found mechanisms by which solar variation can alter climate variability regionally, but none that would trigger global warming. Looking at time scales longer than a century, the impact of solar variability on climate change is evident, but the effect of greenhouse gases has been proven much more considerable in the short run. However, there are still many questions behind the Sun-Earth connection, some of which TOSCA helped answer. By examining the different phenomena defining the solar impact on climate in general, the team showed several subtle phenomena could have a significant impact, often locally. For instance, UV radiation amounts to a mere 7% of solar energy, but its variation produces changes in the stratosphere near the Equator, all the way to the polar regions, which govern climate. This means that winters in Europe would become wetter and milder or, on the contrary, drier and cooler, depending on the Sun’s state. They also found that streams of electrons and protons known as the solar wind, affecting the Earth’s global electric field, lead to changes in aerosol formation, which ultimately impact rainfall. These effects, largely ignored so far, will now be incorporated into several climate models in order to build a more complete picture.
Dr Benjamin Laken had a leading role in one of TOSCA’s training schools: “I demonstrated the use of Python for data analytics, and also guided a small team of students through an independent research project. This helped expose the students – many for the first time – to critical tools and methods relevant to their development into research. TOSCA enabled me to identify the most pressing knowledge gaps, which I could personally contribute to, and see how to effectively communicate my findings back to an interdisciplinary community. Thanks to the network, I was able to grow as a researcher at a critical time in my career.” Dr Dudok de Wit’s team at the International Space Science Institute in Bern, and the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, have been using the datasets identified through the network to describe the Sun’s influence on climate from 1850 up to the present day, as well as a forecast up to the year 2300. The findings will shape the next report prepared by the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change. The panel is tasked with providing a scientific, objective view of climate change and its socio-economic effects. Other projects spinning off from the network, such as SOLID and VarSITI, will continue research on the Sun’s terrestrial impact, placing European experts at the forefront of climate studies research.
The TOSCA handbook presents all the scientific facts behind the network’s findings. It also shows the network’s efforts to engage with a general audience by presenting the facts, which are now open to public scrutiny. The Action was another example of young researchers’ essential contribution: “If I were to lead another COST Action, I would get even more early career researchers involved – it was bright, young minds who made the difference in our group”, Dr Dudok de Wit added.
Understanding the fate of food What exactly happens as we digest food and what are the implications for our health? Answering these questions will help design healthier foods that could curb the rising rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“The digestive process is something of a black box,” says Dr Didier Dupont, a senior scientist at INRA Agrocampus in France. “We need to know more about the role of food in human health and this means focusing on what happens in the gastrointestinal tract.” To get a complete picture of how the body breaks down the food we eat, food scientists, nutritionists, physiologists and gastroenterologists came together to form COST Action InfoGest. One of the big challenges in moving this field forward was the lack of standard methodologies used by scientists. “Before our network was formed, everybody used their own approaches so it was impossible to compare results of experiments conducted by different groups,” Dr Dupont explains.
We need to know more about the role of food in human health and this means focusing on what happens in the gastrointestinal tract. Dr Didier Dupont, French National Institute for Agricultural Research - INRA
To overcome this hurdle, the COST Action developed a model that represents a consensus on in vitro digestion models. The model is among the most popular in its field and is widely used in Europe and beyond. The network also released six videos providing new researchers with step-by-step instructions on how to use the recommended model. The group then published an open access book – The Impact of Food Bioactives on Health – for researchers interested in studying the health benefits of foods. It explains which assays are most useful in answering certain kinds of research questions, the types of data they generate, and their respective strengths and weaknesses.
The book is a valuable resource for doctors and for undergraduate students, and has the potential to raise and harmonise standards, as well as being catalyst for collaboration. Through a series of eight workshops, four international conferences and four training schools, the network developed and shared these materials, and cultivated strong links with 55 European food companies working in the field, among which Danone, Fresenius Kabi, Friesland Campina, Lactalis and Unilever. “Network members continue to collaborate. Several companies who value our contribution are supporting workshops and meetings where we can continue to work on the harmonisation of digestion models,” says Dr Dupont.
Building on the foundation laid by this COST Action, this research area promises to deliver smarter foods dedicated to specific populations. “Not everyone has the same nutritional needs,” explains Dr Dupont. “By better understanding what’s going in digestion, we hope to be able to develop healthier food which can be adapted to the needs of infants, older people, obese people and even elite athletes.”
By better understanding what’s going in in digestion, we hope to be able to develop healthier food which can be adapted to the needs of infants, older people, obese people and even elite athletes. Dr Didier Dupont, French National Institute for Agricultural Research - INRA
Action training school: applying standardised INFOGEST in vitro digestion protocol on different food matrices
Action training school in Edinburgh
Wood innovation shaping tomorrow’s cities With half of the world’s population now living in urban areas, the latest data show that the future’s smart, sustainable cities will have to shelter around 6 billion people by 2050. This is already changing the way urban areas are designed and built. In an attempt to help cities to cut their carbon footprint, the wood industry is moving towards massive timber buildings fit for all purposes. Reinforced wood, or cross-laminated timber (CLT), is an innovative approach to engineering the properties of timber. It makes wood even more resilient and lighter than steel and concrete so that it can be used in any buildings, no matter the size. CLT is based on large, wooden panels made of planks placed on top of one another and glued together. The panels are then cut and resized using computer software in order to fit any measurements. Construction is much faster because the panels are prefabricated. And, besides being a good insulator, building with reinforced wood helps to reduce a city’s carbon footprint. But, despite the gains it brings, existing technology has yet to break into the global market.
Led by Prof. Richard Harris (University of Bath, UK), COST Action FP1004 brought together specialists from different timber engineering communities working on perfecting wood. “We realised the industry was blooming, but research was patchy”, Prof. Harris points out. “We wanted to help boost the use of massive wood in design and construction all over Europe”. Using and designing with massive wood translates into very high-quality buildings, very quickly. “It is vital that engineers have a good understanding of how massive wood behaves”, Prof. Harris adds. By linking around 200 research projects in over 20 European countries, the network identified all stateof-the-art massive wood technologies and published a best practice guide on ways to enhance the properties of wood-based products and improve the performance of connections and timber structures.
Early-career researchers had a leading role in the fouryear project, organising three main conferences on different challenges in the field. Some of the research presented focused on bridges and ways to ensure their durability, stability and ways to protect their structure, given weather conditions. These conferences saw young researchers from two COST-funded networks present their research and exchange expertise on building and repair techniques, especially in the case of architectural heritage. Ms Biljana Stojanovic (St Cyril & Methodius University) had a short-term stay at Contemporary Building Design, a company in Ljubljana. “It enhanced my experience in CLT structures, their production, design and construction, which will contribute to my Master’s dissertation research and to better comparisons between the European and national standards”, she adds.
also discussed as part of the International Network for Timber Engineering Research (INTER) - a forum for presenting and discussing research related to codes and standards. Sharing expertise also meant researchers learned techniques used in different scenarios, such as seismic activity or extreme weather conditions. Currently, Action FP1404 is researching ways of dealing with fire in ‘green’ buildings. “Although working on a different topic, this new network has benefitted from the close community we built through FP1004 and FP1101. Exposing young minds to all these technologies adds to their confidence in building with wood”, Prof. Harris added.
Action training school in Lund
The Action also managed to attract several industry representatives, especially at the conference on CLT techniques held in Graz, Austria. Several Action members are part of code-writing committees across Europe, some of which set a fourstorey limit to wooden buildings. Their work will also help revise the existing European standards in wood buildings. The work of both FP1004 and FP1101 was
By linking around 200 research projects in over 20 European countries, the network identified all state-of-the art massive wood technologies and published a best practice guide on ways to enhance the properties of wood-based products and improve the performance of connections and timber structures. Prof. Richard Harris University of Bath
The first reference for sign language grammars empowers signers all over the world COST Action SignGram has produced the first guide for sign language grammars, marking a huge step towards equal rights for deaf signers worldwide.
The first ever guide for sign language grammars will help linguists understand, monitor and document how sign languages evolve. Dr Josep Quer, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Researchers from 15 countries worldwide started from a crucial issue: the absence of written, standardised grammars takes its toll on sign language training and interpreting. Most signers are born to hearing parents, who, in turn, have to learn sign languages in order to communicate with their children. Unlike spoken languages, sign languages can only be taught through formal training. Despite the importance of formal training, sign language grammars remain a widely unknown territory. Most sign languages are not even formally recognised as languages, although virtually every country in the world has a sign language of its own or even a variety of them. Studies on sign language grammars have been scattered and only date back to the 1960s, which is why little is known about how such languages form and evolve. The network, led by Dr Josep Quer (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) and Prof. Carlo Cecchetto (University of MilanBicocca), includes researchers from 15 countries worldwide. It is the first ever to study sign language grammars as a whole. The guide takes the form of a multimedia handbook and works as a standard for both linguists and non-specialists interested in writing up a grammar. It includes a checklist of topics or building blocks that need to be addressed when writing up a grammar. Each building block comes with explanations, tips and examples from other sign language grammars. The handbook will be available free of charge by the end of the year. The Action was our starting point for something bigger – we wanted to actually produce grammars, Dr Josep Quer added.
The guide will also help linguists understand, monitor and document how sign languages evolve. “Differences in the way young and elderly signers use sign language can be staggering, which is also due to the absence of a standard way of teaching sign language grammars. This is why sign languages are endangered”, Prof. Cecchetto explained. The network will take the blueprint one step further through their Horizon 2020-funded collaborative research project, which will see them develop actual grammars using innovative software developed from the handbook. “Studying sign languages is like entering a parallel universe. It’s so gratifying because you can easily see the direct link between basic research and its results in real life. We have developed a real blueprint - a standard for teaching sign languages to signers and interpreters alike”, Dr Quer commented. The project will also be creating assessment tools to identify language difficulties in signers who have suffered brain damage, have developed dementia or were born with language impairments. The Horizon 2020 project also holds an educational purpose, as it plans to uncover new facets of historical events such as World War II or the Spanish Civil War by looking into elderly signers’ experiences. “Language normally evolves through sound, so we are somewhat biased to see language through that lens. We want to explore how these silent communities experienced such defining events in our history”, Prof. Cecchetto added. The project will also be creating assessment tools to identify language difficulties in signers who have suffered brain damage, have developed dementia or were born with language impairments. The Horizon 2020 project also holds an educational purpose, as it plans to uncover new facets of historical events such as World War II or the Spanish Civil War by looking into elderly signers’ experiences. “Language normally evolves through sound, so we are somewhat biased to see language through that lens. We want to explore how these silent communities experienced such defining events in our history”, Prof. Cecchetto added.
Exploring complex connections between climate and migration Climate change and migration are two of the biggest issues of our time. However, the relationship between the two is complex, requiring input from a broad constellation of academics.
One common presumption often featured in the media is that climate change will cause an increase in migration. This has led to the concept of ‘climate refugees’ – people forced to abandon their homes because climate change has made their environment uninhabitable due to famine, drought, species extinctions or rising sea levels. The reality is less straightforward, according to Professor Andrew Baldwin of Durham University in the UK who led the COST Action IS1101 on climate change and migration. “Attempts to identify climate migrations or climate refugees have proven to be impossible in practice,” he says. “This is because migration is not caused by any single variable. People migrate for myriad reasons including war, economic conditions and household strategies to generate more income by temporarily living away from ‘home’. While environmental issues may influence the decision to migrate, Professor Baldwin is sceptical of the idea that climate change could become a major driver of migration in future.
The COST Action was an ideal platform for bringing together a diverse group of researchers and stakeholders from across the social sciences, humanities, legal and policy studies
“We are now in the midst of probably the largest migration that Europe has ever witnessed since the second World War. This phenomenon has nothing to do with climate change patterns. People are fleeing their countries primarily for political and economic reasons,” he says. Given the complexity of the issue, the COST Action was an ideal platform for bringing together a diverse group of researchers and stakeholders from across the social sciences, humanities, legal and policy studies. “The network has provided an important way to create a space for a more critical debate on climate change and migration,” Professor Baldwin says. “We managed to create a culture of trust among a vast group of researchers who don’t necessarily agree on even the most basic things, such as research methods and interpretative frameworks.” A network of 300 researchers has been established, building relationships that provide a foundation for further collaboration in the years ahead when both migration and climate are expected to remain hot topics. The Center for Ethnic and Migration Studies (CEDEM) at the University of Liege is currently planning to convert the Action network into a professional association of environment-migration researchers with a corresponding peer-reviewed journal and newsletter.
The Action hosted a side-event at the COP21 confe- rence in Paris in 2015 where participants presented their research findings and insights on diverse topics ranging from insights on conflict and gender to policy development and political issues. It was standing-room only at the meeting for the event where speakers from academia, international organisations and the United Nations University shared a stage. COST IS1101 was a timely initiative that concluded as governments signed the COP21 agreement, a new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “All three agreements signal that governments are beginning to think more about the relationship between migration and the environment,” says Professor Baldwin. “We have learned that the social sciences and humanities need to take a leading role as these issues move centre stage.”
We managed to create a culture of trust among a vast group of researchers who don’t necessarily agree on even the most basic things, such as research methods and interpretative frameworks. Prof. Andrew Baldwin, Durham University
The robots are coming and they are here to help As Europe’s population ages, the number of people requiring rehabilitation following neurological diseases such as stroke is expected to rise. Specialist care from physiotherapists and occupational therapists offers a chance of regaining independence by recovering lost movement.
However, in many countries, health professionals are already in short supply. To keep up with growing demand, scientists and engineers are turning to robots for help. For example, instead of two or three physiotherapists manually supporting an unsteady patient on a treadmill, helping them to move their limbs, robots can provide locomotion training while physiotherapies offer encouragement and feedback. “This is just the beginning,” says Dr Thierry Keller, Director of Rehabilitation at Tecnalia Research & Innovation. “Robots can also motivate patients through gaming and virtual reality technologies.” These technologies are equally useful in rehabilitating people who have suffered spinal injuries or are losing mobility due to multiple sclerosis. This fast-growing field, in which Europe is a leading player, was the subject of COST TD1006.
The Action has put robot-assisted neurorehabilitation on the map. Network members are finalising guidelines on the use of robots in the assessment of patients, which will be published in leading journals in this field later this year. The network contributed to the multi-annual roadmap produced by euRobotics for a public-private partnership (PPP) in Horizon 2020, including an agenda for future work in robotic rehabilitation. Members of the Action also offer a European MSc in advanced rehabilitation therapies (ART). It also supported the foundation of the International Industry Society of Advanced Rehabilitation Technology (IISART) which aims to advance the use of modern healthcare technologies for the benefit of patients and society.
The COST Action identified, for the first time, the diverse range of stakeholders working in this area and set about developing a common language. “We identified and invited all stakeholders working on neurorehabilitation – doctors, engineers, neuroscientists and experts in motor control – to work with our multidisciplinary network,” says Dr Keller who chaired the COST Action.
Network member Prof. Jane BURRIDGE, at the 2016 Neurorehabilitation Congress, Philadelphia, USA
Almost half of the 200 Action participants were early career investigators and members developed strong relationships with SMEs in a market with great potential. “The next step in this field it to merge various technologies so that health professionals can use them more easily,” says Dr Keller. “There is also a lot of work being done to incorporate feedback; to create a closed-loop system which would allow us to observe the impact of robotassisted rehabilitation on the brain.” Some of the biggest barriers to the widespread use of these technologies are due to how the healthcare
system is structured and funded, and the availability of healthcare professionals. “In future, these tools could be used in outpatient clinics and at home by patients and their families,” explains Dr Keller. “The robots will become more sophisticated and intelligent but also easier to use.” Looking ahead, members of the network have made joint applications for EU funding in areas such as wearable robotics and computer software that brings together a range of rehabilitation technologies including those that inform health professionals’ decisions, predict clinical outcomes and deliver several rehabilitation treatments at once.
The Action has put robot-assisted neurorehabilitation on the map. Network members are finalising guidelines on the use of robots in the assessment of patients, which will be published in leading journals in this field later in the year. Dr Thierry Keller, Director of Rehabilitation at Tecnalia Research & Innovation
Borrowing nature's brightest idea Photosynthesis is the unique natural process that converts energy from sunlight into chemical energy. Understanding the photochemical reactions behind this essential phenomenon has the potential to deliver new sources of green energy as well as instruments that detect environmental pollution and food contamination.
“Photosynthesis is one of the most important biochemical processes,” explains Dr Giuseppina Rea of the Institute of Crystallography in Rome. “It is responsible for most of the oxygen on our planet, also providing the food and the energy behind humans’ activities. Scientists have been working to understand the complex fundamental science behind photosynthesis in the hope of capturing its secrets and mimicking it. Dr Rea led COST Action PHOTOTECH, which brought together an international research network of leading scientists and early-stage researchers involved in the development of photosynthesis-based devices.
The primary focus was on the development of biosensors that can detect pollutants – such as pesticides and heavy metals – which interfere with photosynthesis. When these contaminants are present, the light-induced electron transfer is slowed down. This modification can be measured by photosynthesis-based biosensors. The network has designed two biosensors prototypes that sense changes in the photosynthesis process and could be used in industry. In particular, researchers have shown that the photosynthetic complexes can be stably integrated with nonbiological electronic components (bio-hybrids) enabling the measurement of light-induced photocurrents.
“The main achievement of our Action was the development of a class of bio-organic-inorganic hybrids to be used in devices for environmental monitoring and agrifood quality analysis,” says Dr Rea. The network has generated novel bio-sensing elements for the detection of herbicides exploiting the power of molecular engineering to improve the performance of photosynthetic complexes. The scope of the Action broadened as the network learned more about the potential for using the developed photosynthetic biotechnology to produce green energy. “Newly developed bio-hybrids were stable and efficient enough and could be the basis for the development of clean energy devices,” says Dr Rea. “There is a big opportunity to use novel natural or bio-mimetic systems to produce electricity or hydrogen. This area is really exciting and has huge potential.” The network has developed photosynthesis-based bio-photovoltaics and bio-photoelectrochemical cells that can harness energy from light. Members are also working on the large-scale cultivation of microalgae, which may provide a cleaner, greener source of food, feed and bio-fuels. This will be the subject of a future COST Action. “This addresses what the bio-based economy is calling on researchers to deliver,” Dr Rea says. “It could have very important applications and is based on decades of fundamental photosynthesis research.”
The final Action conference, Rome, 2015
During the four-year Action, the Action organised a range of networking activities, including 30 interactive short-term scientific missions, which helped to share knowledge among the research community. Based on these exchanges, 45 papers were produced, and several applications for national and international projects have been approved. Examples include "NANOBIO", a joint research project (2015-2017) between CNR-Italy and RFBR Russia. Given the pressing need for sustainable sources of energy and food, photosynthesis research could have a major social impact in the decades to come.
The network has developed photosynthesis-based bio-photovoltaics and bio-photoelectrochemical cells that can harness energy from light.
Unlocking the potential of medical imaging PHospitals across Europe can use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine our organs and soft tissue such as breasts and brains, helping doctors to diagnose problems and plan treatment. Another sophisticated scanning technology known as positron emission tomography (PET) is used to diagnose diseases such as cancer by detecting gamma rays from ‘tracer’ molecules introduced to the body prior to scanning.
The latest leap forward in the innovative field of medical imaging came in 2010 when a hybrid PET/MRI scanner became available. This offers the best of both machines, giving doctors a combined image that shows the form and function of the patient’s body, without adding radiation to the patient as is the case with PET/CT. However, getting the most out of this new imaging system required, and still requires, a lot of work by experts in diverse fields. “When PET/MRI technology became available, many questions were still unanswered,” says Professor George Loudos, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Technological Educational Institute of Athens, Greece. “Work was needed to address engineering issues, software tasks, and to develop and test new tracer molecules that would combine the power of MRI and PET imaging,” he explains.
Younger participants are developing their own networks through this work...It’s a chance for them to establish connections within their own field and beyond. Professor George Loudos Department of Biomedical Engineering, Technological Educational Institute of Athens
COST Action TD1007 was designed to bring together a constellation of experts in the hardware, software, tracers, pre-clinical applications and clinical applications of PET/MRI. Bringing these scientific fields together gave engineers and software specialists a bridge to clinical medicine where their work will be applied, as well as providing access to multimodal data. Similarly, it offered clinicians access to the expertise of physicists and biologists working with experimental animal models. The future of the field looks bright. One young researcher from the network, Dr Liliana Caldeira of the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, has been awarded a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship to advance her work in this field. Participants in this COST Action successfully attracted around €18 million in EU-funding to advance their work on PET/MRI, with strong industrial participation from companies large and small. The network established an international conference, which is now in its fifth year, and expects its members to contribute to the development of a new PET/MRI scanner within two to five years through the TRIMAGE research project. Participants in TRIMAGE include companies that produce PET/MRI systems and detectors used in scanners, along with a small electronics developer named Weeroc.
Major suppliers of PET/MRI machines, including Siemens, Philips, Bruker and Mediso have attended the annual conference, as well as specialist firms that provide components and distribution services. The conference features an interactive industry session where companies provide updates on their activities, and members of the COST network also present details of their work. Smaller start-ups were particularly active in meetings of the COST TD1007 working groups. “Younger participants are developing their own networks through this work,” says Professor Loudos. “It’s a chance for them to establish connections within their own field and beyond.”
Looking ahead, several participants in the network are seeking to continue their collaboration through new COST Actions in areas such as PET/MRI hardware development and the potential for PET ‘inserts’ which could be added into existing MRI machines to lower costs. “The cost of medical imaging can go down over time, and with potential new uses in areas such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease – as well as a range of paediatric applications – PET/MRI technology could play an important role in our future health,” says Professor Loudos.
Participants in this COST Action successfully attracted around €18 million in EU-funding to advance their work on PET/MRI, with strong industrial participation from companies large and small.
Action training school, Leeds, 2015
07 2015 events
World Sustainable Energy Days
Perspectives on evaluating interdisciplinary research in Europe
WELS, AUSTRIA COST was an organising partner at this year’s WSED, one of the largest energy efficiency conferences in Europe. In the context of global warming and growing demand for energy, three Actions showcased their work on new structural textile materials and designs, new materials used in renewable energy systems for buildings, and new technologies for building facades. COST also supported the Young Researchers Conference: Energy Efficiency & Biomass, where young talents from 40 countries presented their work on these two topics.
16-18 APRIL Cultural Literacy in Europe
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM The workshop brought together European researchers, project proposal evaluators and funding programmes’ representatives and highlighted Sci-Generation’s efforts to promote new and emerging research topics as well as research methods. Although very few European funding agencies differentiate between mono- and interdisciplinary research and have different evaluation methods in place, participants agreed that interdisciplinary proposals had a high level of risk. They also highlighted reports indicating that none of the funding agencies surveyed had earmarked funds for interdisciplinary work. Sci-Generation network mentioned its purpose was not to promote interdisciplinary research as the best method to solve scientific questions, but rather to ensure that when the scientific question begs for an interdisciplinary approach, these projects are evaluated fairly and without bias.
LONDON, UK Academics, artists, educators, members of the creative industries and policy makers met in London to discuss how cultural literacy can help solve Europe’s societal issues. Dr Rossella Magli represented COST in the panel discussion on policy and stressed the framework’s role in supporting cultural literacy by funding research networks in the field. The networks create links with other sciences, which strengthen the importance of cultural literacy within the European Research Area (ERA) and in society. By organising similar conferences over the coming years, the project will try to achieve a shared understanding of the concept of cultural literacy and to communicate its importance to an even broader audience.
Another issue that participants raised was the challenge of defining “transdisciplinarity”. The absence of a common understanding of the term is apparently fuelled by one of the survey outcomes: science policy makers themselves are questioning definitions and adding new ideas. Reporting on a study on the full cost and effectiveness of the UK Research Councils’ peer review process, Prof. Catherine Lyall (University of Edinburgh) explained that preparation and submission account for the costliest processes, adding up to 74% of the total costs. She proposed a dialogue between peer reviewers and proposers, allowing for more flexible review timetables and longer proposals justifying their interdisciplinary design. This would see funders facing the bigger challenge of balancing flexibility, cost efficiency and parity.
COST roadshow in Budapest
WIRE 2015 - © State Education Development Agency
MAY - JUNE
MAY - JUNE
Week of Innovative Regions in Europe (WIRE) 2015
BUCHAREST, SOFIA, BUDAPEST In May 2015, COST launched a series of events designed to present the opportunities the framework brings to scientists in less research-intensive countries. Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary hosted this year’s roadshow, which is set to continue in 2016. The events covered all the ins and outs of participating in COST activities: setting up a COST Action by submitting a proposal via the new open call, joining an Action or simply attending Action-run activities. Every session featured several speakers from the host country, who shared their own experiences related to building up a network, submitting a proposal or simply being part of a pan-European research network. Participants had the chance to interact with compatriots involved in successful networks and learn how such networks can advance their research and careers. This initiative supports COST’s goal of engaging and connecting young talents from less research-intensive COST countries with the top science hubs in Europe.
RIGA, LATVIA The event aimed to build better links between the different European policies for regional innovation and development, which would improve regional planning and resource management in less research-intensive European countries. The President of the COST Association, Dr Ángeles Rodríguez Peña, spoke about how COST helps to spread scientific excellence and widen participation among researchers in different European regions. Her presentation focused on the COST Excellence and Inclusiveness policy, which creates cooperation opportunities for young talents all over Europe, helps narrow the gender gap and connects scientists from across Europe.
10-12 JUNE EuroNanoForum 2015 RIGA, LATVIA The conference featured a COST-run workshop on funding for research networking activities and several COST Actions working on nanotechnology and advanced materials. Touching on new sensors that detect air pollution and the use of nanorobotics in surgery, the Actions highlighted the value of COST-funded networking activities in the field, creating links with research funding from Horizon 2020 or the European Research Council.
EuroNanoForum 2015 © Toms rīnbergs University of Latvia
29 JUNE - 02 JULY EuCNC 2015 PARIS, FRANCE Leading researchers and telecom industry representatives met in Paris to discuss the latest technologies, experiments and demos defining the next generation 5G networks. Among the researchers in attendance were COST Action leaders involved in international consortia testing new ground in the field. They set up: • QUALINET – a network defining the concept of “quality of experience” in today’s multimedia services and 3D video and HDR image compression standards, and • Cooperative Radio Communications for Green Smart Environments – a network working on new models and scenarios for 5G networks shaping the “internet of things”.
9-11 JULY Rencontres Recherche et Création AVIGNON, FRANCE COST partnered with the French National Research Agency for the 2015 edition of “Rencontres, Recherche et Création”, which took place during the International Festival of Avignon. Two COST Actions took part in the “Verbal, non-verbal” session, alongside artists and other researchers in human, social and cognitive sciences, discussing the link between verbal and non-verbal communication. Prof. Carlo Cecchetto (Action IS1006) focused on the importance of developing the first reference for sign language grammar writing, while Prof.
Arnaud Destrebecqz (Action BM0605) highlighted his Action’s role in advancing research on the mechanisms driving consciousness. Action BM0605 used the latest neuroimaging techniques and found that a person diagnosed as being in a vegetative state after a coma can be aware, despite having only partial brain activity. This discovery is vital in treating pain and in better assessing a patient’s chances of recovery.
6-10 SEPTEMBER The 1st World Congress on Electroporation LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA COST Action EP4Bio2Med organised the first world electroporation congress bringing together over 400 researchers from different disciplines involved in basic research or developing applications based on electroporation and the use of high-intensity pulsed electric fields. Electroporation can be successfully used to deal with the world’s most pressing challenges related to health, food, energy and environment. Increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy, gene therapy, food processing, and biotechnological processes are only a few of its possible applications. The event’s aim was to create an environment for stimulating interdisciplinary interactions, to present the latest achievements in the field, and demonstrate current knowledge. Chair Damijan Miklavčič congratulates one of the Young Investigator Competition winners © Janez Kotar
9 SEPTEMBER Integrating the Stake of Rare Disciplines at the National and European Level - Exploratory Workshop BRUSSELS, BELGIUM Rare and emerging scientific disciplines lack critical mass and are often excluded from funding programmes. However, these disciplines can offer scientific, economic and cultural solutions to today’s societal needs and, in some cases, represent an entire branch of knowledge. Organised in collaboration with the European Universities Association, the National Rectors’ conferences of France (CPU), Germany (HRK), Hungary (MRK), Poland (CRASP)
and the Netherlands (VSNU), the seminar saw academics from all over Europe identify steps forward in supporting such disciplines. Participants looked at the main features defining them and identified societal pressure, ageing demographics and financial constraints as the main threats rare disciplines are facing. Still, discussions found that communicating their values, focusing on interdisciplinary approaches to scientific problems and establishing niche calls could help nurture rare disciplines.
17 NOVEMBER COST Get Together BRUSSELS, BELGIUM The COST Get Together is an annual social event bringing together representatives of European Institutions, stakeholders from the Brussels-based research funding organisations, representatives of European or national research agencies, academia and industry, members of the COST governing board, COST Actions and COST Association staff. This year’s event put the spotlight on some of the people that make up the community that has built up around COST Actions. To represent this community, several Action leaders were invited to talk about how young researchers, scholars and engineers in countries with lower rates of participation in EU research funding programmes benefit from COST-funded networking activities. Network members also showed how their own involvement in Actions and Action-funded activities empowered them, as they met peers from across Europe and around the world and developed or strengthened collaboration in their fields of interest.
Researchers’ testimonials, selected from the COST petition campaign for a stable and sufficient COST budget, were another highlight of the evening.
COST Get Together from left to right: moderator Martin Watson, Victor Negrescu MEP, Dr Maria Da Graça Carvalho, Peter Dröll, Carlo Duprel
26 NOVEMBER Nature Jobs Career Expo Düsseldorf 2015 DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY This annual event targets Master’s and PhD students from all over the world, offering them the chance to meet national and international employers from academia and the public sector, and network with leading scientific institutions. Participating in the Nature Jobs Career Expo for the first time, COST organised two workshops on the various
networking activities in which young researchers can participate and lead as part of an Action. Prof. Kiril Sotirovski (Sv. Kiril i Metodij University, Skopje) hosted both workshops, stressing how being part of a COST Action at a very early stage in his career helped him develop new connections and compete for joint international projects in his field of expertise.
2 DECEMBER The Importance of Social Science Research for Understanding Climate Change Induced Migration - COST Action side event at the COP21 Climate Change Conference PARIS, FRANCE In the context of today’s migration crisis, researchers involved in COST Action “Climate Change and Migration” presented their findings at a side event organised as part of the COP21 event in Paris. The event explored the importance of social science research for understanding climate change-induced migration. Having worked with international peers from social sciences, humanities, legal and policy studies, network member Dr Angela Oels stressed there was “no simple link between climate change and migration”. The network argued that although climate change affects vulnerable populations, it is not the only factor causing migration. Challenging the concept of climate migration, network members highlighted the role of poverty and political crises leading to civil wars as two key factors making people vulnerable.
The Action also took the opportunity to show how they created a space for interdisciplinary debate and a culture of trust among researchers who did not share much common ground prior to their collaboration.
Dr Angela Oels and Dr Andrew Baldwin (COST Action IS1101)
17 NOVEMBER 7th European Innovation Summit BRUSSELS, BELGIUM The 7th European Innovation Summit set out to agree a pact for innovation by discussing the key barriers to creating a more innovative Europe. COST was once again an official event partner, putting Action members centre stage. Dr Georgeta-Mihaela Moisescu (COST Action EP4Bio2Med) showed how a COST-funded network became a community of almost 600 researchers spanning 43 countries worldwide, all working on electroporation – an old technique with new applications in cancer treatment, wastewater management, food processing and renewables. Prof. Richard Harris presented his network (FP1004) and its efforts to unify the fragmented woodworking industry across Europe, which now employs over 1 million people. The plenary session touched on the next generation’s innovators and how important it is that they take risks, develop a mindset for innovation and value collaboration. Dr Sarah McCormack spoke about her experience as a young COST-funded researcher, stressing that mentoring young scientists and engineers was a crucial step in career development. In this sense, the COST framework proved vital for her, giving her leadership opportunities at a very early stage in her career.
Prof. Richard Harris speaking at the 7th innovation summit
08 In the headlines
In the headlines
Investigadores de 9 países se formarán en Aguilar en innovación en Patrimonio 22/01/2016 12:32
Palencia, 22 ene (EFE).- Investigadores de nueve países participarán en Aguilar de Campoo (Palencia) en una escuela de formación sobre innovación en el patrimonio para conocer nuevas técnicas en la gestión del Patrimonio y generar líneas de investigación y redes de contactos especializados. Las jornadas formativas, promovidas por el grupo europeo COST (Cooperación Europea en Ciencia y Tecnología), se desarrollarán entre el 27 y el 29 de enero en la sede de la Fundación Santa María la Real del Patrimonio Histórico en Aguilar de Campoo (Palencia), según ha adelantado hoy la entidad.
Testimonials The Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) of the COST Association expressed its deep concern over potential future budget cuts, especially in the context of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). COST published a statement and launched an online petition to urge adequate and stable budgets.
COST Actions are instrumental in uniting Europe and making it one research area. รdรกm Kun, Associate Professor, Eรถtvรถs Lorรกnd University, Budapest
Signatories included COST Action researchers, scientists, engineers, industry representatives, and MEPs. The testimonials offer a vivid picture of how the research networks funded by COST stimulate the growth of ideas and serve as a springboard for careers. By the end of December 2015, the number of signatories stood at 10 929.
It is very important that early-stage researchers get access to short scientific missions and training schools at a scale that is not provided by any other EU-funded programme. Peter Kralchevsky, Full Professor, Sofia University
Without COST Actions as a basis for collaboration, there would be fewer cross-national projects and less cooperation with non-academic partners. Sarah Broughton Micova, Lecturer in political communication, University of East Anglia
A COST Action plays a fundamental role in overcoming Central and Eastern European researchersâ€™ isolation. I learned how to tackle problems in a multidisciplinary manner. Being involved in two Actions helped me grow from an early-stage researcher into an established principal investigator. Peter Nagy, Associate Professor, the National Institute of Oncology, Budapest
As a Masterâ€™s student, COST allowed me to give my first conference talk.
COST is a vital lifeline to ensure European research is coordinated and on the front line of knowledge.
Daniel Lawther, PhD student, University of Copenhagen
Roger Green, Full Professor, University of Warwick
As a clinician working in the field of rare lung diseases in children, it is clear to me that Action BM1407, in which Norway is involved, will provide invaluable data on the natural history of the disease and response to new treatments that could not have been obtained otherwise. Suzanne Crowley, Researcher, Oslo University Hospital
COST Actions provide an excellent way to focus research energies and ideas in the most pressing areas for EU society. For us here in Denmark it has been the platform of choice to develop research projects. Martin Tamke, Associate, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation
I would not have met my post-doc supervisor without COST and would not have been able to obtain a permanent post without the collaborations that have led to my greatest successes. Elizabeth Gibson, Lecturer in physical chemistry, Newcastle University
Cooperation within COST Action FA1006 enabled us to optimise the scope of research and adapt cutting-edge technologies in our laboratories. Miroslaw Tyrka, Associate Professor, Rzeszรณw University of Technology
This is the only funding that is available to all early-career researchers and not only to a limited few. It really helped boost my career. Tom Leyssens, Full Professor, University College London
This is one of the few European programmes that really provides an equal chance to researchers from any Member State to participate. Vera Istvanovics, Researcher, Budapest University of Technology and Economics
COST has been critical for my career, by building a network connecting me to all leading scientists in my research area. COST is doing the same for my PhD students today, motivating them to stay in Bulgaria but also to work on the state-of-the-art in the field. Guergana Guerova, Associate Professor, Sofia University
Cost Actions provide excellent platforms to connect with like-minded people and facilitate teamwork across countries. Cynthia Farrugia Jones, University of Malta
The COST programme is the only outlet for many researchers from the South and the East European countries. Stavroula Pantazopoulou, Full Professor, University of Cyprus
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