Neuroscience Symposium 2011
By news editor, on 6 July 2011
Ilaria Mirabile, a fourth year PhD student in neuroscience at the Institute of Neurology, MRC Prion Unit, and Savroop Bhamra, a second year PhD student at the institute, report on the UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2011, held on 1 July.
Think about him, that boring professor you struggle to follow on a rainy Monday morning lecture…Think about how you fight to stay awake at the monotonous sound of his voice. Think about those nebulous concepts that (“almost”) put you out of science. Now, breathe with relief. It all belongs to the past. UCL’s Neuroscience community is bustling and exciting with engaging professors that know how to captivate their audience.
Friday 1 July witnessed a 900-strong gathering of neuroscientists across UCL for the second UCL Neuroscience Symposium.
Ilaria: I went down to Bedford Way, not too sure what to expect. Having spent the past few months writing up my PhD thesis, fighting my way through the job-hunting jungle, I really felt the urge for some food for thought.
Savroop: Having presented my PhD poster at the inaugural symposium last year, I was looking forward to catching up with familiar faces who will have hung up their lab coats if just for today (and possibly the weekend). Following the success of last year, this symposium had a lot to live up to.
Neither of us could have predicted such an academically enlightening experience or such sociable researchers, who willingly agreed – upon gentle persuasion – to a brief interview.
There’s a place for everyone at UCL Neuroscience
With nearly 200 posters and 15 lectures, almost every aspect of neuroscience was covered, from the behaviour of the adolescent brain (Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore) to the development of neurons in the fruit fly brain (Dr Rita Sousa-Nunes). We are in no way making a completely inappropriate parallel there – although, if you have a 15-year-old brother you would probably understand why it is so tempting to do so…
The Big Questions
How does a single neuron integrate multiple inputs? How do the properties of one neuron relate to the property of the entire neuronal circuit? Does this integration underline the basis of our behaviours? These are some of the important questions that scientists at UCL are starting to answer, using refreshingly innovative approaches. One such technique we heard about from Professor Michael Hausser is the use of microscopy to detect the signal from dendritic spines, which are protrusions from a neuron that are less than 1μm3 in size; to put this into perspective, that is 100,000 times smaller than a small grain of sand!
And while hard-core bench science focuses on modification in a single neuron, discovering:
- new mechanisms regulating gene expression through chromatin modification (Dr Antonella Riccio)
- how certain antiepileptic drugs work (Professor Annette Dolphin)
- temporal integration of dendritic inputs (Professor Michael Hausser, Dr Tiago Branco),
computer-guided and prediction-based theoretical neuroscience elucidates exact connections of nervous system to behavioural outcomes.
Young scientists, new tools, new institute
Not forgetting the founding professors who made UCL Neuroscience such a great platform for scientific research, we were impressed with the age (or lack thereof!) of the majority of the invited speakers and the emphasis that UCL is putting on innovation. Exciting days are on the horizon for neuroscience in general and new techniques give way to daring experimental design.
Did you know that now at UCL we can relate in vivo and in vitro information on the same neuron to investigate how neuronal connectivity relates to neuronal function (Dr Sonja Hofer)?
And I bet you didn’t know that we can monitor the circuit activity in a mouse brain while he is in another world – well, a virtual one (Professor Michael Hausser, Professor John O’Keefe; comment by Dr Tiago Branco).
Dr Alex Leff and Professor Nicholas Wood from the UCL Institute of Neurology also put the internet to outstanding use. Dr Leff developed a website to help treat patients with certain eye movement disorders and Professor Wood uses it to pool large volumes of available data on neurodegenerative disorders, in order to better investigate the underlying mechanisms that give rise to such diseases.
In 2014, the Sainsbury-Wellcome Centre, a new research centre dedicated to better understanding of neural circuits and behaviour, will be using state-of-the-art techniques and multi-disciplinary approaches to answer the Big Questions (Professor John O’Keefe).
It is a call for action to all of us: scientists, undergraduates and graduates at UCL. With a brand new institute for leading neuroscience, new positions will be available, new minds and ideas will be sought, new approaches welcomed and for budding neuroscientists…the sky is the limit!
Scientists want to engage the public
Wandering around the poster session, with a coffee or a glass of wine, you could catch the most exciting conversations and set up the most fruitful collaborations. This is especially true with the breadth of diverse neuroscience at UCL where interdisciplinary efforts are well established.
Here are some comments from other attendees:
and a final remark from Ms Alison Brindle who, alongside Dr Graham Cadwallader, helped organise this amazing day:
Thanks to Alison, Graham and everyone who attended…we want more!