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Cognition in aging: Prestigeous European research grant for Magdeburg neuroscientist

Magdeburg, Germany, August, 22nd, 2013. Prof. Thomas Wolbers from the Magdeburg site of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) has been awarded a "Starting Grant" from the European Research Council (ERC) and thus, the support of one of Europe's most prestigious funding programs. Wolbers, who in 2012 was jointly appointed by the Otto-von-Guericke-Universitt Magdeburg and the DZNE as professor for "Cognitive Ageing", will explore how spatial orientation changes in elderly humans. For this, he will receive around 1.3 million Euros for a period of five years. It is the first ERC grant awarded to the DZNE and also the first one awarded to a researcher in the State of Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt). Funding by the ERC is granted after a highly competitive selection process.

"We are all living longer. Research into healthy and pathological ageing are, therefore, topics of special social importance. Especially in Saxony-Anhalt there are many high interesting research approaches to face the challenges of an aging society. The EU funding is a testimony for the longstanding excellent research in Saxony-Anhalt," said Hartmut Mllring, minister of science and economic affairs of the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

In particular, the State's capital has evolved into a top location for neuroscience in recent years. This success is based largely on the partnership of various institutions. An illustration of this is the close cooperation of the DZNE with the Otto-von-Guericke-Universitt Magdeburg, the Universittsklinikum Magdeburg (University Clinic Magdeburg) and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Magdeburg.

With the funds provided by the EU, Wolbers will study why the ability to find one's way declines with age. Disorientation is often one of the first signs of dementia. "The ultimate goal is to detect dementia at an early stage, and to develop measures to prevent dementia or at least counteract it. In addition, elderly people can only live an independent and active life if their sense of direction is still working well," states the neuroscientist.

His approach is interdisciplinary: The Magdeburg project combines the study of brain processes by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), mathematical models and advanced data analysis techniques. This is complemented by navigation within a realistically simulated environment using a "virtual theater". Within this 360-degree cinema, research participants can move on a treadmill in all directions. They have a simulated environment always in sight that adapts to their movements.

Thomas Wolbers studied Psychology at the University of Hamburg. He did his postdoctoral research at the University of California at Santa Barbara (USA) on the neural basis of spatial orientation in humans. In 2009, he joined the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems at the University of Edinburgh, where he worked as a Senior Lecturer. At the same time he began to research, as a member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, age-related changes in spatial abilities. In 2012, he was jointly appointed by the Otto-von-Guericke-Universitt Magdeburg and the DZNE as a professor for "Cognitive Ageing".


Contact: Dirk Förger
Helmholtz Association

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