Food giant Nestlé is investing 25 million Swiss francs over five years in the Brain and Mind Institute of Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne as the first step in the multinational redeployment of its research collaborations with universities.
Under the agreement, Nestlé will contribute five million Swiss francs per year to the Brain and Mind Institute (BMI) at EPFL. Two Nestlé chairs will be created in this institute, which inaugurated a prestigious programme in computerised models of the brain, its so-called “Blue Brain” project.
Using the eighth most powerful computer in the world – built on the campus last year by IBM – the BMI’s director, Henry Markram, and colleagues have already modeled a column of 10 000 neurons extracted from a mouse’s cortex where information circulation could be simulate.
It will take years of research before computers can model the entire brain of a human being, but the powerful tools and databases developed by the BMI are attracting industries such as Nestlé to start looking at relationship between the brain and core function such as nutrition.
The research funded by Nestlé will focus on the study of brain development in children as well as identifying ways of slowing down brain decline with age, or preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Specifically, Nestlé hopes to extend the number of functional active ingredients patented by the group. Thirteen such ingredients important for weight management, growth, protection, performance or healthy aging, have already entered into products representing 3, 3 per cent of the company’s annual revenues of 91 billion Swiss francs.
The reinforced focus on “health” oriented nutrients that is at the core of the EPFL agreement will have deep consequences for Nestlé research organisation. According to Nestlé Research Center’s director, Peter van Bladeren, “The signature of the agreement with EPFL is the beginning of a new era.”
Nestlé research organization employs 2400 scientists and has a budget of 1.5 billion Swiss francs per year. It works with 140 universities worldwide. According to van Bladeren, this may change. “The EPFL agreement isthe first in what we hope to be a number of more focused, large-scale cooperationa with the best research institutes around the world. There might be fewer but more important partners in the future.”