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2nd British Symposium on The History of Neurology and Psychiatry (25th and 26th Nov)

Jake Fairnie15 September 2015

The 2nd British Symposium on The History of Neurology and Psychiatry is on 25th and 26th November

A commemoration of the centenary of the death of Sir William Gowers November 25th. Reviewing Gowers contribution to Neurology. Speakers include: Rebecca and Timothy Gowers, Andrew Lees, Christopher Boes, Michael Hanna, Alastair Compston, Mark Weatherall, John Duncan.

Topics include: The Bethlem Hospital, Insanity, Child and Old Age Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Neurasthenia, Shellshock, Hysteria, Epilepsy, Movement Disorders, Brain Imaging, The Institute of Neurology and The London Hospital. Speakers will include: Victoria Northwood, Bonnie Evans, Claire Hilton, Simon Shorvon, Niall Quinn, Adrian Thomas, David Bell, Deji Ayonrinde, Jon Stone, Stefanie Linden, Michael Clark, Alastair Compston and Michael Swash.

See www.hnps.co.uk for full programme and registration details. Click here for Flyer.

Interdisciplinary research, volcanoes and a travelling rhinoceros

rejuhll14 September 2015

Last week, the Division’s Qualitative Researchers Working Group co-hosted the first in a series of seminars on qualitative health research[1]. The theme was “interdisciplinary research” and the context, strangely enough for a division of psychiatry, was volcanoes. During the seminar, Anthropologist, Professor Linda Whiteford, and geoscientist, Professor Graham Tobin, both from the University of South Florida, shared tales of their long-time collaboration in Baños, Ecuador. Beyond jokes that they stood paralysed between Linda’s anthropologically-informed worry about eating local vegetables customarily soaked in water that was likely to carry disease, and Graham’s geoscienfically-informed fears that the volcano could quite literally blow a hole in their research at any moment, their thesis was a serious one: interdisciplinary work offers that which work confined to one or other discipline cannot.

 

M0010418 Muscled skeleton, facing front with Rhinoceraus. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Muscled skeleton, facing front with Rhinoceraus. Tabulae scleti et Muscularum Corporis Humani Bernhardus Siegfried Albinus Published: 1747 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

An écorché figure, front view, with left arm extended, showing the bones and the fourth order of muscles, with a grazing rhinoceros in the background. Line engraving by J. Wandelaar, 1742 (Wellcome Library no. 565796i)

 

Such a view is clearly etched into UCL’s Grand Challenges and underscored in the missions of research councils and an expanding population of interdisciplinary journals. It is seen as the latest iteration of the cutting edge in research planning, altogether more innovative, more relevant and more persuasive. Yet what does it really mean for projects to be interdisciplinary? How should we judge their successes? And how should a dynamic be set that allows each discipline to flourish according to its own terms?

 

Working across boundaries is by no means something new. A familiar example is that which gave birth to those images we see in textbooks and atlases and pore over in encyclopaedias. Images given in divine splendour towards an ideal type, which might not have followed the rough contours of the natural world yet which survived in the archetypes that became the basis on which the natural world was known. Here, the leaves of trees were cast as pure and unblemished, animals ennobled with human character, and human bodies turned inside out, made free of the sticky fluids that give them their fleshy corporality. Here is where we see draughtsmen working alongside botanists, zoologists, anatomists and surgeons.

 

L0023550 Male skeleton with a rhinoceros Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Back view of a male skeleton with a rhinoceros in the background. Engraving 1747 Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani Bernhardus Siegfried Albinus Published: 1747 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

An écorché figure, back view, with left arm extended, showing the bones and the fourth order of muscles, with a rhinoceros seen in the background. Line engraving by J. Wandelaar, 1742 (Wellcome Library no. 565802i)

 

A wonderful example is the Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani, published in 1747 by the Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus. As well as giving us some of the most startlingly beautiful images of human anatomy, the Tabulae sceleti promised to rework concepts of the body into a reality hitherto unseen. To render this ambition, Albinus recruited Jan Wandelaar, master painter and engraver, and lover, it turned out, of rhinoceroses. He wrote of their relationship: “And thus [Wandelaar] was instructed, directed, and as entirely ruled by me, as if he was a tool in my hands, and I made the figures myself.”[2] This seems to deny Wandelaar of any agency in the production of the figures. Yet, perhaps it is misleading.

 

Wandelaar himself suggested that his figures be placed in natural settings “to preserve the proper light of the picture.”[3] He took freedom to embellish his figures, depicting them against grand and glorious backdrops of classical scenes, buildings and the natural world. And in several of the plates appears the bizarre figure of that which had preoccupied his earlier engravings: a rhino. Putting aside any guesswork about narrative, which might take us on a wonderland-like misadventure, here perhaps was a way in which Wandelaar was able to serve himself and popularise his version of a rhino amongst his peers and beyond. It is certainly an image whose legacy remains as amongst the most accurate of early renderings of a rhinoceros, one that broke artists free of a slavish mimicry of Dürer’s (1515) fancifully scaly and armour-plated monster[4].

 

V0021201 A rhinoceros. Woodcut after C. Gessner. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A rhinoceros. Woodcut after C. Gessner. 1551 By: Conrad GessnerPublished: 1551 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

A rhinoceros. Woodcut after C. Gessner, 1551. (Wellcome Library no. 41009i)

 

It has also been noted that the inclusion of the rhino (and other details behind the figures) contributed to the wide circulation and enduring quality of the Albinus atlas.[5] The atlas itself became a material that travelled across disciplines, finding homes in the bookshelves of anatomists and artists alike, and informing the trajectories of fields from human anatomy and surgery to zoology and figurative painting. Is this perhaps a marker of interdisciplinary success: the production of knowledge that can travel across borders and settle in various academic homes? Knowledge that is both difficult to classify in ordinary terms and which can bridge the gaps between silos? And is this something that we should aim for in our collaborations, whether they be between anthropologists and geoscientists, psychiatrists and sociologists, or epidemiologists and qualitative researchers? I’d say, yes to all three, tipping my hat to the travelling rhinoceros…

 

[1] Seminar series co-hosted with the UCL Department of Applied Health Research and the UCL Health Behaviours Research Centre.

[2] Albinus, Academicarum annotationum, libri I-VIII, lib. 1. Praef quoted in Choulant, L. 1920. History and bibliography of anatomic illustration. Translated and annotated by Mortimer Frank. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.277.

[3] Albinus, Academicarum annotationum, libri I-VIII, lib. 1. Quoted in Choulant, L. 1920. History and bibliography of anatomic illustration. Translated and annotated by Mortimer Frank. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.17.

[4] Ross MacFarlane. Object of the month: Human skeleton and young rhinoceros. 2011. Available at: http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2011/08/object-of-the-month-august-2011-jan-wandelaar-human-skeleton-and-young-rhinoceros/

[5] Linda Wilson-Pauwels. 2009. Jan Wandelaar, Bernard Siegfried Albinus and an Indian Rhinoceros Named Clara Set High Standards as the Process of Anatomical Illustration Entered a New Phase of Precision, Artistic Beauty, and Marketing in the 18th Century. Journal of Biocommunications, 35(1), 10-17.

Congratulations Dr Álvaro Díez Revuelta who has been awarded the ‘Juan de la Cierva’ postdoctoral fellowship

Jake Fairnie9 September 2015

Alvaro-DiezCongratulations Dr Álvaro Díez Revuelta who has been awarded the prestigious ‘Juan de la Cierva’ postdoctoral fellowship under the Spanish National Research programme. Well done Álvaro! After more than two years working at the Division of Psychiatry, next October he will change UCL for the Complutense University of Madrid, and will be placed at the Centre for Biomedical Technology, Laboratory of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience in the Spanish capital. With this new position, Álvaro will continue his research in brain activity disorganization in patients with psychosis, expanding his expertise to magnetoencephalography techniques. Álvaro will be hugely missed by the Division, but fortunately his new project will allow him to continue to collaborate with Dr Elvira Bramon, so we hope to still see him regularly in London. Álvaro, we wish you the very best of luck!

Concern over psychotropic drug prescribing in people with intellectual disability

rejutal8 September 2015

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A study led by Dr Rory Sheehan, a psychiatrist and academic research fellow, has found a significant number of people with intellectual disabilities might be inappropriately prescribed psychotropic drugs. In particular, the number of people prescribed antipsychotics substantiallyoutweighs the number of diagnoses of severe mental illness in this population. Use of antipsychotics for other presentations, such as challenging behaviour, may be a factor, but the authors suggest that further work is needed to establish why this is the case and to optimise psychotropic prescribing. Dr Sheehan’s article in the BMJ (http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h4326) has received a lot of media coverage and has drawn attention to the disparity between rates of psychotropic prescription and recorded mental illness in people with intellectual disability. You can read a summary of the research on NHS Choices:http://www.nhs.uk/news/2015/09September/Pages/scale-of-antipsychotic-chemical-cosh-use-explored.aspx

SSBP 2015 – Behavioural phenotypes from the bench to bedside: translation of basic science to clinical practice

rejutal8 September 2015

SSBP LogoLast week UCL held the SSBP annual meeting, co-hosted by Dr Andre Strydom. The meeting was very successful and comprised an education day and two days of research presentations. You can find out more about the conference and the Society here: http://www.ssbpconference.org/index.html

Next year the meeting will be in Siena, Italy – we hope to see some of you there!

LonDownS PhD student Ros Hithersay wins £48k grant

rejutal7 September 2015

A team of researchers from the Division of Psychiatry have been awarded £48,000 from the Baily Thomas Charitable Fund to investigate the feasibility of using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to identify differences in cortical activity that may relate to differences in cognitive abilities and predict later cognitive decline, in adults with Down syndrome. Rosalyn Hithersay will develop and conduct the study as part of her PhD. She is supervised by Dr Andre Strydom and Dr Carla Startin, with support from Professor Clare Elwell’s team in UCL’s Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering. This work will further develop the ongoing research into individual differences in Down syndrome that is currently being conducted by the London Down Syndrome Consortium (LonDownS). You can hear more about LonDownS through their study websitehttps://www.ucl.ac.uk/london-down-syndrome-consortium or twitter feed @LonDownS.