The Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN) is the common platform of systems-oriented neuroscience at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, and one of the biggest and most prolific centres of neuroscience currently to be found in Europe. Founded as a Cluster of Excellence, it has been set up within the framework of the German Universities Excellence Initiative, funded by the German federal and state governments. Although a proposal for a new centre in systems neuroscience called the Adaptive Brain Cluster Initiative has not met with affirmation, the CIN will continue to provide a strong platform for this field in Tübingen.
The CIN is currently home to almost 90 independent scientists and their teams, of which 21 research groups are funded directly by the CIN, including 8 professorships and 2 senior professorships as well as 11 junior research groups. It encompasses three faculties of the University of Tübingen and is invested in several local and regional research institutions.
Research at the CIN is predominantly basic research, although it counts many application-focused institutions among its many different internal and external collaborating partners.
Research at the CIN focuses on two questions: How does the brain generate its functions? And how do diseases of the brain impair these functions?
We tackle these questions on a variety of levels and with a multitude of methodical tools. Most importantly, however, the CIN applies an integrative approach in its research. We are convinced that only an approach that is integrative with respect to disciplinary perspectives as well as different levels of observation can lead us to answer these basic research questions.
This explains the participation of a broad range of institutions and individual researchers: covering the fields of biology, medicine, physics, infomation technology and engineering as well as the humanities, they each bring their unique perspectives to the table, which are as complementary as they are diverse.
This disciplinary diversity is reflected in the levels of observation that are taken into account at the CIN. They range from the molecular, genetic, and cellular, to neural networks and all the way up to the interplay of general and domain-specific cognitive systems which control human behaviour. Methods naturally vary widely between individual research groups, but they are connected through their pursuit of similar goals.
However, the CIN also strives to further develop the methods and tools available to integrative neuroscience, through integrative neuroscience. Therefore, improving the imaging processes that are so important to understanding brain functions in a clinical context, as well as the development of neuroprostheses and applications inspired by brain functions, are two equally important aspects to the CIN's research.
Starting out with 25 Principal Investigators, most of which have remained closely associated with the institute, the CIN has grown to almost 90 members today. These hail from all Tübingen research institutes involved in biomedical research, as well as several partner institutions outside Tübingen, and include the CIN's own 21 in-house research groups.
These 21 research groups are made up as follows:
- Eight professorships, five of which were established during the first two years of the CIN's existence. These professorships are funded by the CIN and, in two cases, co-funded with other institutions (the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research and the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, respectively). These shared professorships embody the CIN's integrative approach, on the level of research as well as on the level of institutions. The five original professorships are fully tenured, one is a junior professorship with tenure track, while the latest two additions used to be a CIN junior research group leader who received full professorial tenure following a competitive, peer-reviewed evaluation procedure.
- 12 junior research groups make up the bulk of the CIN's in-house scientific staff. Starting with a single one in 2008, the number shot up to nine the following year and reached the full complement in 2010, with minor fluctuations since then. The junior research group leader positions at the CIN not only grant great autonomy to their holders, but also include a tenure option after evaluation by a scientific committee – an attractive and rare option in German academia, and one which allowed the CIN to hire outstanding talent.
The previous rounds of evaluation called the level of commitment and scientific excellence in evaluated groups outstanding. Two of the group leaders – Ziad Hafed and Markus Siegel – were found to have distinguished themselves to such a degree that they will be offered tenure at the University of Tübingen shortly. Two more – Andreas Bartels and Hong Yu Wong – have already been tenured.
Alireza Gharabaghi received a professorship at Tübingen University Hospital in 2014.
Four more group leaders have received invitations from other universities to take up professorships there: Tobias Schlicht became a professor at Ruhr University in Bochum in 2012, Anton Sirota at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in 2014, and Laura Busse as well as Steffen Katzner have likewise taken up a chair at the Ludwig Maximilian in 2016.
- Two senior professorships complete the CIN's own research portfolio. With their lifelong experience as researchers foremost in their fields, and excellent connections in the academic world, both CIN senior professors contribute greatly to our stature as a scientific institution.
The CIN's research groups now employ a total of about 150 Master and PhD students, postdocs and research fellows, with the actual number fluctuating from day to day.
One of the most important aspects of the CIN's work besides pure research is manifest in the CIN's very own Graduate Training Centre of Neuroscience (GTC). The GTC, which also includes an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS), now encompasses three graduate schools: the Graduate School of Neural & Behavioural Sciences, the Graduate School of Neural Information Processing, and the Graduate School of Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience.
The GTC grew out of the Graduate School of Neural & Behavioural Sciences, which was established in 1999 and made into an IMPRS in 2000. It plays a major role in attracting motivated students to Tübingen to become the next generation of outstanding neuroscientists, with consistently growing numbers of PhD graduates from year to year (2014: 78).
The GTC's three schools all work closely with local and regional partner institutions, providing the CIN with another angle of collaboration. The GTC's students are usually part of the CIN's research groups, so training and research, education and work, go truly hand in hand.
It is the CIN's stated mission to act as a joint platform of systems-based neuroscience in Tübingen. To live up to this self-image, the CIN has accepted 88 members from all university-based and many third-party institutions in and around Tübingen into its fold. These include various internal and external partners engaged in basic research and developing practical applications for neuroscience research.
Based on a strong established tradition of excellent neuroscience in Tübingen, the CIN grew out of the University of Tübingen and its University Hospital. It brought together the local Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute.
Integrating and channeling these institutions' powers, the CIN has been playing an important part in Tübingen's further development as a location where excellence in research abounds. It is no accident that at the same time the CIN was being set up, in 2008, another large institution dedicated to neuroscience was also being established: the Helmholtz Association's German Center of Neurodegenerative Diseases. Both institutions have profited immensely from the other's existence ever since. More directly, the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience was applied for and set up by CIN members and employees in 2010, with a CIN professor at its head. The CIN likewise directly impacted the establishment of the German Diabetes Center, also in 2010, and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.
Unfortunately, a joint proposal for a new centre to be installed as a cluster of excellence starting in 2019, which was formulated by PIs from the University, HIH, DZNE, DZD and University Hospital as well as the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, will not come together as planned. Under the title "The Adaptive Brain Initiative", the centre would have taken a perspective grounded in adaptive processes on multiple timescales, from microsecond shifts in the brain to its evolutionary adaptation to changing environments.
While the pre-proposal has failed to result in tangible structural change, its construction brought together many established and new actors in the Tübingen neuroscientific community and resulted in a proactively cooperative spirit among its principal investigators. In that sense, the "Adaptive Brain" has still opened pathways to adapt the CIN for the future. So although one project for an evolutionary development of the CIN basic idea has to remain closeted for the time being, the institute and its members will remain at the core of what amounts to one of the largest concentrations of neuroscientific expertise and excellence in Europe.
As a Cluster of Excellence, the CIN's existence ultimately owes to the initiative of Edelgard Bulmahn, then Federal Minister of Education and Research, to stimulate excellent research in Germany through a programme of unheard-of scale: the Excellence Initiative. After the programme was implemented in 2005/2006, the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen applied for a Centre for Integrative Neuroscience to be established as a Cluster of Excellence. The proposal was part of the secound round of applications and was given the go-ahead after positive evaluation in October 2007.
When the CIN was founded in November 2007, it consisted of little more than an attractive concept and the enthusiasm of those who had developed it. But as soon as this conceptual framework and élan was granted generous funding by the Excellence Initiative, the necessary infrastructure required for a large number of research groups was quickly developed. Although recruitment proceeded apace and the CIN's researchers settled in swiftly and began pursuing their scientific work, this dynamic from our early days has never abated – in fact, we are gathering momentum still.
Since May 15th, 2012, the CIN has been lucky enough to have a dedicated work environment of its own in the FIN building near Tübingen University Hospital on Schnarrenberg. Located right next to the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH) on one side and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Disease (DZNE) on the other, the CIN takes center stage in this unofficial Tübingen neuroscience campus.
Finally, in 2015 we set up this new website, with its much clearer and cleaner design and structure helping to find all the information visitors may seek quickly and easily. The new website also added a lot of content that the old one, set up in 2009, did not offer, including a concise calendar offering an overview of all Tübingen neuroscience-related events (including those not hosted by the CIN) at a glance, as well as much more accessible information about our members and employees, more details about our partner organisations, and a more in-depth treatment of the hot topic of animal research.