News

Pupils using 'brain hats' to discover roles of brain areas.

A team of Unit scientists - led by Research Support Manager Ben Micklem - recently visited a local primary school, St. Nicholas' in Marston, as part of the Unit's continuing support of British Science Week and International Brain Awareness Week.

On Wednesday 13th March, Flavie Torrecillos and Ben ran sessions for the two Reception classes. The sessions began with the 4- and 5-year-old pupils being guided through their exploration of a range of plastic models of vertebrate brains. The children were then shown the human brain model, and with a pupil volunteering to wear a 'brain hat' to illustrate the locations of different functional areas. Flavie and Ben then ran a live experiment to test whether the signals in Ben's muscles really were electrical, by using electrodes on the surface of his arm. The children were delighted to see that the tensing of muscles caused the robot claw to open 'on demand'.

On Wednesday afternoon, Guy Yona and Ben visited the two Year 3 classes. They delivered interactive sessions designed to teach the 7- and 8-year-old pupils about how a computer's hard drive stores information. The children were given decommissioned hard drives to open up, and were guided through their examination of the platters as well as the arm with its read/write heads. This was then compared to the ways the brain stores information. The children were also taught about the different parts of brain cells, including their 'listening' dendrites and 'talking' axons. At the end of the sessions, the children were helped to make their own model brain cells using colourful pipe cleaners.

On the afternoon of Friday 15th, Kouichi Nakamura and Ben ran a stall at the school's Science Fair. The Unit's collection of vertebrate brain models was on display, and pupils were challenged to match the photos of animals with their model brains. The robot claw, controlled by electrodes applied to the arm, was a big attraction, with queues of children wanting a turn. The opened hard drives, and pipe cleaner brain cells, were also on display, and children from all years of the school came to the stall and learned about information storage in computers vs. brains.

Log for MRC BNDU Data Sharing Platform

We are delighted to announce that the Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit has launched its own bespoke Data Sharing Platform.

The new Platform will support the Unit’s ongoing initiatives for open research, and will host a range of primary data, metadata and related resources that can be readily downloaded by external users. In the first phase, the Platform will host electrophysiological recordings of neuronal activity, digital micrographs of brain tissue, scripts and tutorials for data analysis, files for 3D printing of bespoke equipment, and code for the computational modelling of neuronal networks.

Unit Director Professor Peter Brown commented “This new Platform underscores the Unit’s long-standing commitment to making research more accessible, inclusive and reproducible. The data and related resources we share will be important in helping us maximise the value of the public money invested in the Unit’s research”.

You can access the Data Sharing Platform here.

A portrait photo of Dr Huiling Tan

We are delighted to announce that Unit Group Leader Dr Huiling Tan has been selected to join this year’s SUSTAIN programme organised by The Academy of Medical Sciences.

SUSTAIN is a year-long programme offering interactive skills training and career development sessions, tailored mentoring and the chance to network with research leaders, all with a view to enabling female researchers to thrive in their independent research careers.

Huiling commented, “The SUSTAIN programme is a great opportunity to hone skills for leading a team, and to meet with and learn from inspiring female scientists.”

Picture of Professor Tim Denison

We are delighted to announce that Unit Group Leader Professor Tim Denison will deliver this year’s Graeme Clark Oration, Australia’s most prestigious free public science event.

Tim will speak to the subject of “Towards an Electronic Prescription?”, in which he will discuss the opportunities and challenges for interfacing electrical and biological circuits for the treatment of disease.

The Graeme Clark Oration celebrates advances in health and medical research that impacts people around the world. It showcases world leaders in health and medical research, and initiates a community-wide discussion around exciting developments in convergence science - where the life, physical and engineering sciences come together. Previous orations include those given by Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse, and genomics pioneer Dr J. Craig Ventor.

You can learn more about Tim’s oration here.

Portrait photo of Dr Tim West

We are pleased to welcome Dr Tim West to the Unit as a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist in the Cagnan Group.

Tim originally graduated from University College London with a B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences. He then went on to complete an M.Res. and subsequent Ph.D. at the UCL Centre for Computation, Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology (CoMPLEX), where he specialized in computational modelling and signal analysis of brain activity. During his doctoral research, Tim was based at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, where he investigated the mechanisms underlying the emergence of pathological brain rhythms associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Here in the Unit, Tim’s research will be focused on elucidating the neuronal network mechanisms involved in tremulous movement associated with diseases such as essential tremor, Parkinsonism, and dystonia.

Picture of Dr Mohamady El-Gaby

In continuing the Unit’s work in widening access and participation (WAP), Unit scientist Dr Mohamady El-Gaby recently made some key contributions to the inaugural Oxford Muslim Student Research Conference, held at Worcester College on 19th January 2019.

The aims of the Conference were to encourage Muslim students to pursue careers in academia, and to continue building a network bringing together Muslim academics and students. The conference included keynote talks from high-profile academics, showcased research presentations and posters from around the country, and hosted dedicated workshops to help foster skills in research and academia.

Mohamady helped organise the Conference, delivered a workshop on “Getting started in Academia: the Natural Sciences”, and gave a talk highlighting some of his neuroscience research in the Unit.

Picture of Dr Majid Memarian Sorkhab

We are pleased to welcome Dr Majid Memarian Sorkhabi as a Postdoctoral Scientist in Tim Denison’s Group.

Majid completed his Ph.D. in Electronics Engineering at the University of Tabriz, Iran, where his doctoral research was focused on transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. For this purpose, Majid designed and built a prototype specifically designed to concentrate magnetic flux in the desired area of the brain, as validated in rodent models of Parkinsonism.

Here in the Unit, Majid's research will focus on developing non-invasive and minimally invasive therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.

Attendees at the MRC BNDU’s Science Day in winter 2018.

The Unit held its eighth Science Day on Friday 14th December 2018. Unpublished work and future research projects were the focus of discussion, and Unit members and visitors enthusiastically took the chance to offer the constructive criticism that is vital for nurturing collaborative, world-leading research.

There were 16 short talks and poster presentations, almost all of which were given by the Unit’s early-career scientists. Attendees were also treated to a Special Lecture by Professor Andrew Jackson of the University of Newcastle, in which he gave a discerning account of how local field potential dynamics can be exploited for neural interfaces.

Unit Director Professor Peter Brown commented “Another excellent Science Day. It was great to see how the Unit’s researchers are using their foresight and ingenuity to push back the frontiers of clinical, experimental and computational neuroscience.”

Andrew Clouter

We are pleased to welcome Dr Andrew Clouter to the Unit as a Postdoctoral Scientist in Peter Brown’s Group.

Andrew completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in finance at Dalhousie University, Canada, before changing fields to experimental psychology. Andrew completed his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at the University of Birmingham, investigating the neural mechanisms underlying long-term memory formation in humans.

Here in the Unit, Andrew's research will focus on the mechanisms underlying human decision making, and the role of the subthalamic nucleus in accumulating information and setting decision thresholds.

2018 Openness Award in Public Engagement Activity.

We are delighted to announce that the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit has won Understanding Animal Research’s 2018 Openness Award in Public Engagement Activity.

The Openness Awards were launched in 2014 by Understanding Animal Research to celebrate the achievements of the sector in honouring their commitment to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. The Awards seek to recognise those individuals and collectives who have championed openness on animal research over the years, and those who continue to do so.

Drawing on nominations from across the UK, this year’s Awards showcased many excellent examples of advocacy. The Unit’s Award citation noted its exemplary track record in public engagement, highlighting in particular the Unit’s work with people affected by Parkinson’s. Unit Deputy Director Professor Peter Magill and Associate Unit Member Professor Paul Bolam received the Award on behalf of all Unit members at a ceremony held yesterday in London.

Peter commented: “The use of animals is vitally important for the Unit’s innovative science, and we are committed to communicating - in an open and transparent way - exactly when, how and why we use animals in brain research. Most of the activities in our thriving Outreach programme provide opportunities for the public to learn more about and discuss research using animals. For the Unit’s work to be recognised in this way is hugely gratifying for our all members.”

You can learn more about the Unit’s public engagement events tailored for people affected by Parkinson’s here, here and here.

You can learn more about the Unit’s award on the University of Oxford’s News webpage.