The Ente Cassa supported the start-up of the LENS, the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy, which pursues nine lines of research (atomic physics, biophotonics, disordered systems, matter under extreme conditions, molecular spectroscopy, nanostructures, optical properties of complex systems, quantum optics and frontier sources, and ultrafast spectroscopy). The laboratory performs scientific research activities and the training of young researchers in the field of laser applications in physics, chemistry and biology. LENS is part of the European Research Infrastructure Consortium. The funding provided by the Ente Cassa amounts to around 3 million euro.
The European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy, the University of Florence and the international research division of IBM have jointly decided to contribute to the development of neurophysiological knowledge. They have brought together neuron imaging and computational techniques for the purpose of establishing a new centre of international research in the field of computational neurophotonics: the International Center of Computational Neurophotonics (ICON).
The principal purpose of this centre is study of the entire neural circuitry of the brain: the connectome. Other experiments will also be performed within ICON, aimed at linking the morphological and more functional aspect of connectonics. These studies, in combination with total mapping of the neural circuit, will lay the foundations for understanding the rules governing the central nervous system.
The aim of ICON is therefore to become a benchmark in the study of the brain as a whole, starting from the study of the topology of neural connections and working through to the development of new drugs for the brain.
The American National Institute of Health has earmarked 30 million dollars for the Human Connectome Project. This involves cutting the brain into ultrathin slices which are then analysed under the microscope in order to arrive at a three-dimensional reconstruction of the entire brain circuit. The Italian alternative to the Connectome Project is instead based on analysis of the brain as a whole, without slicing it into sections, by using a new system of optical tomography developed at the European Laboratory for Non Linear Spectroscopy (LENS) in Florence.
The ICON Foundation studies the three-dimensional reconstruction of the entire brain circuit with a view to applying this study to the field of neuroscience and pathologies connected with circuit abnormalities, such as autism, schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, or relating it to functional mechanisms connected with panic or pain, or stem-cell applications for repair of the damage. These studies will also be used for pharmacological applications and to connect the circuit structure with brain functions through combined techniques of functional neuroimaging. The Italian National Research Council (CNR) has expressed a strong interest in becoming involved in ICON, as have the University of Florence, the EBRI, the San Raffaele Hospital of Milan, the Istituto Besta of Milan, the Campus Biomedico of Rome, and the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.