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Dr Südhof: 'We understand maybe one or two per cent of what happens in the brain'

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20141119PHT79615_original"The brain is incredibly difficult to understand. We know maybe one or two per cent," said Dr Thomas Südhof, speaking before a lecture about the brain at the European Parliament on 18 November. The 2013 Nobel Prize for Medicine laureate was invited by the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) body for its annual lecture.


What got you interested in brains?
When I started my lab 30 years ago, I was looking for a new project in the area of science that would allow me to do something completely different. I decided to work on the brain because it is incredibly difficult to understand. We know maybe one or two per cent.

How could research into the brain's chemistry lead to tackling diseases such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia and autism? What promising developments are there at the moment?

A lot of money has been wasted on clinical trials that have failed, because we don’t understand diseases like Alzheimer's or autism. If you don’t understand it, you don’t know how to treat it. And then every attempt at remedial treatment is basically a guess and these are very expensive guesses.

Have you seen changes in how research is funded?

I have seen dramatic changes and I believe many of these changes are wrong. Many funds will be misdirected and wasted if the science funding is not dedicated to scientists based on merit and realistic assessments of what can be done. Many scientists overpromise in order to get more money and we need ways of containing this as it will inevitably lead to disappointment

What role should the European Union play in stimulating research?

There is a tremendous role for the European Union to play because the European Union has become one of the most important funders of European research. It has a crucial role as its funding will have a major role in determining what type of science is advancing.

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coronavirus

Mounting pressure on Portugal's health system could prompt further restrictions, minister says

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Portugal’s national health minister warned on Monday (26 October) that the country’s national health service was under grave pressure and that further restrictive measures could be coming as the number of patients in intensive care approached record levels, write and

“Although the Portuguese and the national health service are better prepared to respond to the pandemic than before, the situation in Portugal - as in other places - is grave,” Health Minister Marta Temido told a news conference.

The government “is ready to cover possible new municipalities with more restrictive measures,” she added.

Three municipalities in the country’s North went into partial lockdown last Thursday, and non-essential travel between regions was banned from 30 October 30 to 3 November to reduce the risk of transmission during the All Saints national holiday.

A total of 1,672 people were in hospital as of Monday, with 240 in intensive care units (ICUs) - close to the peak of 271 reached in April.

The health system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, could accommodate a maximum of 800 COVID-19 patients in ICUs, Temido said.

Given current trends, over half that figure would be reached by next week, the minister cautioned.

Portugal has reported a total of 121,133 coronavirus cases and 2,343 deaths.

Recent numbers of new daily cases - reaching 3,669 on Saturday - have approached triple the country’s previous peak in April, but testing has also multiplied by around the same proportion.

The country’s toll of hospitalizations and deaths has surpassed April levels, reflecting the considerable number of new cases still being detected among higher-risk age groups, worrying health authorities. Rising hospitalizations and deaths are not linked to increased testing.

Parliament voted on Friday for masks to be compulsory in public spaces where social distancing is difficult for a period of 70 days, a measure which will soon come into law.

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Brexit

Brexit decision entirely separate from US election outcome says PM Johnson

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Britain’s decision on whether to agree a Brexit deal with the European Union is entirely separate to the outcome of the US election next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday (26 October), writes William James.

“The two things are entirely separate,” Johnson said, when asked about an Observer newspaper report that he was waiting to see the US result before making a Brexit decision, and whether he was concerned about the prospect of a Joe Biden presidency.

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Brexit

'Time is very short' Britain says as EU's Barnier heads to London

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Britain said on Monday (26 October) that time was very short to bridge the significant remaining gaps on key issues in talks with the European Union, as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier heads to London to continue negotiations, write and

The United Kingdom left the European Union in January but the two sides are trying to clinch a deal that would govern nearly a trillion dollars in annual trade before a transition period of informal membership ends on 31 December.

After a brief hiatus when London walked away from the negotiating table, both sides are now meeting daily to try to find common ground.

At stake is the smooth flow of cross-border trade as well as the harder-to-quantify damage that a chaotic exit would do to areas such as security information sharing and research and development cooperation.

“There is much work to be done if we’re going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas and time is very short,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

Barnier and his EU team will be in London until Wednesday, after which talks will switch to Brussels and continue through the weekend, an EU spokesperson said.

EU diplomats were not expected to be briefed on progress in the latest batch of talks until later in the week.

Johnson told reporters he was very glad to be talking with the EU again, but offered no new clues on the likelihood of a deal: “We’ll see where we go.”

Since talks restarted last week, British ministers have said real progress has been made and that there is a good chance of a deal. On Sunday, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said a deal to avoid tariffs and quotas was likely.

After some progress on competition guarantees including state aid rules, the hardest issue remains fishing - Johnson has insisted on taking back control over Britain’s waters while the EU wants access.

Although Britain insists it can prosper without a deal, British companies are facing a wall of bureaucracy that threatens chaos at the border if they want to sell into the world’s biggest trading bloc when life after Brexit begins on 1 January.

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