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UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2012: An Overview

By news editor, on 5 July 2012

In the first of a series of blog posts about the UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2012, held on Friday 29 June, Post-doctoral Research Scientists Fiona Kerr and Oyinkan Adesakin (UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing and UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment) give a brief overview of the day in words and video, including their personal highlights.

We have both studied Alzheimer’s disease at UCL for several years but this, unbelievably, was our first time attending the annual UCL Neuroscience Symposium.

Upon popular recommendation from our colleagues as an interesting, inspiring and friendly meeting covering all aspects of neuroscience, the symposium certainly lived up to its reputation.

Speakers included experienced scientists as well as up-and-coming researchers, with seminars providing an interesting mix of current research within the historical context of the neuroscience field. Posters covered a wide-range of subjects – from how nerve cells function to diseases of the nervous system – with joint lab posters providing a good opportunity to find collaborators within the university.

Attracting over 800 attendees, including UCL scientists, neuroscience editors and commercial companies, this event underlined the powerhouse of research within neuroscience  at UCL.

So, what did we find most interesting?

Fiona: As I work on Alzheimer’s, I was naturally interested in the wealth of research on neurodegenerative diseases at UCL, particularly the wide range of model organisms used to help us understand these complex disorders including fish, flies and mice.

I also enjoyed Professor Trevor Smart’s seminar on GABA receptors, which are important in controlling activity of nerve cells and consequently a wide-range of behaviours, and an interesting (if not controversial) keynote address by Professor David Nutt on the usefulness of psychotropic drugs in helping us to understand how the human mind works.

Having studied Pharmacology as an undergraduate student, this reminds me of why I entered science in the first place: to understand how drugs work and, more importantly, to find therapies to cure the most complex of chronic diseases affecting the brain.

Oyinkan: As a self-confessed non-computational person, I was totally shocked at how glued I was listening to Professor Peter Latham (Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at UCL). We  heard about what olfaction (sense of smell) can tell us about sensory processing by probabilistic inference! He compared sensory processing to a guessing-game, very much like Sudoku. So, just as we guess what numbers fit in the missing boxes in Sudoku, when we see an object, we start by possibly guessing what it is, which is then re-inforced by our neural circuit until we eventually get it right. It was one of many great talks!

Finally, acting as your roving reporters for the day, we filmed several highlights from the meeting which you can enjoy here:

We also asked Professor Trevor Smart, Head of the UCL Department of Neuroscience Pharmacology & Physiology and recently appointed Chair of the UCL Neuroscience Domain, about his thoughts on his career so-far, the future of neuroscience and what he hopes this annual symposium will achieve for Neuroscience at UCL:

If you would like to find out more about the ways in which we study neuroscience at UCL, including ageing-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and the science of laughter, you can visit our UCL-based scientists at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition this week (http://sse.royalsociety.org/2012/exhibits) or visit our exhibit blogs:

Healthy Ageing: http://ageing-worms.tumblr.com/
Laughing Brains: http://speechcommlab.tumblr.com/

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