The Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford (BNDU) is a strategic partnership between the Medical Research Council and the University of Oxford. The Director of the BNDU is Professor Peter Brown. The BNDU opened in April 2015, and operates over two sites located at the Department of Pharmacology and the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. The BNDU is exceptional across the world in placing research on the temporal dynamics of brain networks at the hub of discovery and treatment.
BNDU Scientific Mission Statement
Our ultimate goal is to develop recurrent Brain Computer Interfaces that selectively and strategically target circuit malfunctions in neurological and psychiatric disorders. To realise this, we will define the cellular basis of network dynamics and their disturbance at the levels of microcircuits, scale up from these insights to explain systems behaviour and phenotype, and develop and implement spatiotemporally-patterned neuronal manipulation for therapy.
The BNDU is unique in having as its goal the development of novel therapeutic approaches for the correction of identified pathological neuronal network dynamics in distributed and complex systems across the brain, whilst integrating linked clinical and animal model studies. Our goal is challenging, and will take time to realise fully. Nevertheless, our choice of two major sets of brain circuits, the neocortical-hippocampal-amygdala system and the basal ganglia-thalamocortical system, ensures that our research strategy is focussed and tractable.
Alignment with MRC goals
- Delivering ground-breaking discoveries within a framework designed to improve human health and wellbeing.
- Producing and deploying skilled researchers.
- Advancing, disseminating and applying knowledge and technology.
- Fostering a dialogue with the public about medical research.
Research Training, Career Development and Capacity Building
The BNDU provides an exceptional training and mentoring environment for undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, academic clinicians and visiting scientists at all career levels and from all over the world. The BNDU is an outward-looking and international community, which is reflected and endorsed by its diverse membership. The BNDU fosters education, career development and capacity building through a work culture founded on:
- Leadership by example.
- Small, highly-interactive research Groups.
- ‘Hands on’ training by senior staff.
- An emphasis on creative and critical thinking.
- Access to state-of-the-art facilities.
- Clear and informal communication.
- Transparent assessment and feedback processes.
Promoting the BNDU’s ability to recruit and develop individuals of outstanding talent is a key priority for us. We offer instruction and mentoring in a wide range of neuroscientific concepts, disciplines and technologies, including anatomy, electrophysiology (in vivo and in vitro), optogenetics, behavioural analyses, computational modelling and experimental medicine. In capitalising on the excellent calibre of our Programme Leaders, and a strong local scientific, administrative and pastoral infrastructure, the BNDU is well placed to make important contributions to the nurturing of the next generation of research leaders for the UK and abroad. In fulfilment of the our unique expertise and positioning, special focus is brought to bear on us building national capacity in the MRC Skill Priorities of whole organism physiology (notably in vivo training, and translational medicine), quantitative skills (e.g. computation, systems biology, neuroinformatics and machine learning), and interdisciplinary skills (e.g. at the interface between biology, experimental medicine and engineering). We advance cross-disciplinary strategic skills through the combination of complementary non-clinical and clinical research Programmes within the same Unit. For example, the BNDU is especially well suited to offering opportunities in: (1) the training of medical students and qualified clinicians in fundamental ‘benchside’ neuroscience research methods and concepts; (2) clinical lab placements for non-clinical students; and (3) the training of students in computational modelling and neuroinformatics as applied to clinical research projects. Our unique research environment is further strengthened by our collaborative links with the medical devices industry. To find out more about the research-based and other positions currently on offer at the BNDU, please visit our Vacancies page.
We are committed to improving the working conditions and career development of all our staff. The University of Oxford has adopted the terms of the national Research Concordat between the UK Research Councils and the Higher Education Sector as the basis for the conditions of employment that it offers to research workers, including those on fixed-term contracts. As further evidence of this commitment, the University has successfully gained (and retained) the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research Award. This reflects a UK-wide process, incorporating the QAA Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes and the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, and acknowledges the University’s alignment with the principles of the European Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. The University as a whole, and one of the BNDU’s host departments (Pharmacology), have been granted Athena SWAN Bronze Awards. The BNDU's second host department, the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, holds an Athena SWAN Silver Award. The Athena SWAN Awards recognise success in developing employment practices to further and support the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine departments in academia.
The BNDU hosts about 5-10 graduate students at any time, and applications are invited from prospective students wishing to pursue research in areas covered by any of our Programmes. To find out more about the Unit’s current research, please visit our Groups page. To find out more about the MRC-funded doctoral studentships currently on offer at the BNDU, please visit our Vacancies and Studentships page. Feel free to email any of the Programme Leaders to learn more about student research opportunities in the BNDU. All of the Unit’s Ph.D./D.Phil. students are registered as members of either the Department of Pharmacology or the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford. They are also members of an Oxford college and have full use of University facilities as well as those of the Unit. We also regularly host undergraduate students, including those enrolled in one of the University of Oxford’s Final Honours School programmes as well as visiting students from other institutions. We also welcome enquiries from A-Level students wishing to gain work experience in one of the Unit’s Groups (please note that the Unit can only host students for work experience in a lab-based environment when the student is 16 years of age or older at the start of the work experience period).
Knowledge Transfer and Exchange
The BNDU is committed to “translating” scientific discoveries and technological advancements in a way that can be used by industry, policy makers and healthcare professionals to deliver tangible improvements to human health. The core objectives of the BNDU’s Knowledge Exchange and Transfer Strategy are to:
- Be a trusted source of information about brain network dynamics in health and disease.
- Translate our science into policy and practice.
- Pass on our academic know-how to industry and clinical practice.
- Develop innovative ways through digital technology to communicate and disseminate our science.
Communications and Engagement
The BNDU is committed to the effective and timely communication of its scientific and other activities, as well as to engaging and involving our diverse stakeholders, such as the general public (including local community groups and schools), the Media, the Medical Research Council, the University of Oxford, wider scientific and academic communities (both national and international), charities and patient groups/associations, parliamentarians and government, and the National Health Service. If you would like to learn more about the BNDU’s public engagement activities, please visit the Outreach page.
The BNDU is committed to developing and implementing best practice in open research, with a view to increasing the use and understanding of our research by all of our stakeholders. This facilitates the discovery process and hence, accelerates clinical translation. Where possible, the BNDU’s research papers are published in an Open Access format, so that the products of our research are made freely accessible to all in a timely manner. Every research paper published by the BNDU is also deposited on a freely-accessible public database (Europe PMC). Our research papers are also available on our Publications page. The BNDU also generates research data and novel analytical frameworks that hold significant long-term value for the wider research community. We recognise that the sharing and reproducibility of research are of key importance, and Unit scientists are encouraged to maximise opportunities for this. Data recorded from people are always anonymised prior to sharing. Written requests for data, metadata and code can be addressed to the BNDU’s Data Access Committee (c/o Savita Anderson). Both the Medical Research Council and the University of Oxford have signed up to the Concordat on Open Research Data.
Building on success
The BNDU builds on the successes of the MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit (ANU), which operated from 1985 until March 2015. An on-line archive of the MRC ANU’s activities can be found here.