The 2017 UCL Neuroscience Symposium
By Guest Blogger, on 21 June 2017
By Oriol Pavón, Wellcome Trust PhD student in Neuroscience
Now in its 8th year, the UCL Neuroscience Symposium is the perfect occasion to catch up with the latest developments of our colleagues and establish new collaborations. Over 800 researchers and a gender-balanced line up of speakers gathered to share and discuss some of the exciting scientific breakthroughs that UCL has seen over the past year.
The event kicked off with an unplanned outdoor networking session caused by a fire alarm, thankfully false. Professor Richard Morris of the University of Edinburgh, who shared the 2016 Brain Prize, then delivered a fantastic talk on ‘The synaptic plasticity and memory hypothesis’.
Professor Ray Dolan, awardee of the 2017 Brain Prize, introduced the winners of the Jon Driver Prize. Established to honour the memory of the late Professor Jon Driver, former director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, this year’s prize was awarded to three outstanding young neuroscientists from UCL who took the stage to briefly present their work.
Next a poster session, with over 150 lab and research posters showcased in three different halls, allowed PhD students, post-docs and group leaders to present and discuss their research in an amiable atmosphere.
Professor Kenneth Harris chaired the first session of UCL speakers. Dr Jennifer Bizley delivered a talk on “How does seeing improve listening?”, showing how visual cues can be decisive to discriminate between different overlapping sounds.
We then heard from Professor Jernej Ule and his work on recursive splicing of RNA from long genes in the brain and its potential implications for the biology of neurons.
Dr Tamar Makin gave a powerful talk on ‘Brain plasticity in amputees’, debunking some textbook knowledge with her research on the representation of missing limbs in the brain of amputees and how to take advantage of it to advance neuroprosthetics.
We heard from the winners of this year’s Early Career Prize, awarded to recognise outstanding work published in the past year by early career UCL neuroscientists.
Dr Karin Tuschl was awarded the prize in the Junior Category for her work identifying the genetics of childhood-onset parkinsonism-dystonia, developing a zebrafish model to understand the aetiology of the disease in the lab, and then using the knowledge gained from basic research to translate it to a therapy back in the clinic.
In the Advanced Category, Dr Aude Marzo won the prize with her research on Wnt signalling and reversal of synapse degeneration, and its potential application to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.
There was a second poster session and a parallel workshop, sponsored by Spectra-Physics, on recent advances in two-photon and three-photon microscopy
Professor Maria Fitzgerald then chaired the second session of UCL speakers. Dr Isaac Bianco spoke on using behavioural tracking, whole-brain imaging of neuronal activity at cellular resolution and closed-loop virtual reality assays to study hunting, escape and sensorimotor processing in the larval zebrafish.
Professor Christiana Ruhrberg presented her work on the cross-talk between neural progenitors, blood vessels and microglia in the developing brain, stressing the importance of taking into consideration the different degrees of interactions if we wish to understand the process as a whole.
Dr Sergi Costafreda González closed the session with his talk on the relationship between hearing loss and risk of dementia, and the need of more funding to translate the discoveries in basic research to the clinic.
Professor Barbara Sahakian from the University of Cambridge delivered the closing keynote. ‘Cognitive enhancement in neuropsychiatric disorders and healthy people’ commented on how mental disorders disproportionately affect the young and how she and her team are developing new ways to assess cognitive abilities and study the effects of “smart” drugs in patients and healthy subjects.
She also shared some interesting insights on the possible reasons behind healthy people using cognitive enhancing drugs and encouraged us all to engage the public with our new ideas.
After the final round of applause, Professor Trevor Smart made the closing remarks, awarded the Early Career Prizes and revealed the winners of the coveted Laboratory Poster Prizes: this year’s winner was Professor Rachael Pearson’s Lab poster on “Cell based therapies for retinal repair”, with the runner-up prize going to Professor Sara Mole’s Lab poster on “Batten disease”.
The symposium celebrates the scientific achievements of the year while keeping an eye on the ones that are yet to come.