A chat with the expert: Emiliano Albanese

The series of encounters " Chatting with the expert ", organised in Cadro by USI L’ideatorio, is an informal exchange of views between the public and professors, researchers and doctors on the functioning of our brain and its imperfections. The conferences are an opportunity to get to know the experts who have made themselves available and to discuss the themes that guide their work and their research. The first meeting was held on Saturday, 19 October with Emiliano Albanese on the theme of the "fragile mind".

A physician, USI professor and public health expert, Emiliano Albanese is currently Full Professor at the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences at Universitą della Svizzera italiana , and director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health at the University of Geneva. He also holds a specialisation in public health FMH from the Universities of Milan and London, a Master of Science in Nutrition and Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an MD-PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology, which are the focus of his research: cognitive ageing and dementia.

The interest in this field of research dates back to the period of his studies in medicine. "About twenty years ago, dementia was often not perceived as a disease, and both physicians and researchers were relatively untrained in it. In my interactions with patients, I have experienced (and still experience) frustration for the lack of treatment for dementia. That’s why I decided to focus on public health, so that I could concentrate on prevention and on taking care of patients and their families", explains Albanese. The ways to approach this disease have in fact changed a lot over the years, shifting from therapy to prevention and care: "I often define this disease as a Cinderella, formerly neglected and now rightly in the spotlight. There is now a strategic plan, both at cantonal and national level, and a proper strategy of the World Health Organization". A public health approach to dementia that is not strictly clinical, but in close touch with the population and aimed at the population. Professor Albanese is particularly concerned with epidemiological studies, i.e. collecting data on the incidence and frequency of diseases in a given population, and analysing their global mental health more broadly, with particular attention to low and middle income countries: "Epidemiology has contributed decisively to calculating how many people are affected by dementia or cognitive impairment in the general population and to measuring their impact on society, including direct and indirect costs". This search for closeness and dialogue with the territory "is essential to understand the needs, to listen to requests and to formulate questions to which public health can contribute to provide answers. The aim is ambitious: to obtain the maximum possible benefit for the maximum possible number of people, through health promotion, prevention, diagnosis, therapy and taking care of the needs of all".

The first conference of the series took place on Saturday at L’Ideatorio, following the same idea to foster dialogue and prevention, investigating the very combination of mind and fragility, two concepts that revolve around health: "Mind and fragility are two broad and complex concepts: the first embodies intentions, the second expresses a decrease of this free will for environmental causes or those linked to the individual himself". For this reason, fragility can be seen as an indicator for public health to measure the state of individual and general health and try to prevent diseases before they occur. "The mind, is actually the prerequisite for this prevention to be a conscious choice of the individual and the community to which it belongs."

The next lecture of the series at L’ideatorio will be held on 16 November with Luca Gambardella (computer scientist, director of the Istituto dalle Molle di Studi sull’Intelligenza Artificiale USI-SUPSI) on the theme "Human brain VS artificial brain". More information:  ideatorio.usi.ch/eve­nt/quattro-chiacchiere-con-lesperto