News

On 16th October 2018, Unit scienists Saed Khawaldeh and Rafal Bogacz visited Longwick Church of England Combined School near Oxford, where they met with about 50 pupils from Years 5 and 6. During the visit, Saed and Rafal led the pupils in discussions about how the brain is built and how it controls movements. The pupils experimented with brain-computer interfaces, and explored how a robotic arm can be controlled by electrical signals in muscles that are triggered by the brain. The pupils were also given opportunities to build pipecleaner models of nerve cell networks, and to see some of the Unit's brain tissue archive.

Year 5 teacher Ms Emma Pughe commented: “The children really enjoyed the visit and were very inspired to hear about the research. We invited the parents into school on Friday so that the children could share what they had learnt in Science Week. I could hear lots of the children telling their parents about the brains and robotic arms.”

We are pleased to welcome Freya Marijatta to the Unit as an MRC-funded D.Phil. student in Professor Peter Magill’s Group.

Freya graduated with a B.Sc. in Psychology from University College London, and then completed a M.Sc. in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford. As part of Freya’s M.Sc. research, she worked with Dr. Mark Walton on a project examining the effect of background reward rate on learned Pavlovian behaviours and dopaminergic activity, implementing a novel behavioural task and making photometric recordings of dopaminergic neurons.

During Freya’s D.Phil. thesis work in the Unit, she will use in vivo electrophysiological recordings, cell-type-selective manipulations, behavioural analysis and computational methods to elucidate how the activity of midbrain dopamine neurons impacts on their neuronal targets in the striatum to govern purposeful movement.

The Unit recently welcomed Lord James O’Shaughnessy, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, for a site visit organised as part of The Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme.

The visit began with Unit Group Leaders Peter Brown, Peter Magill and Tim Denison highlighting why, how and where the Unit undertakes its cross-disciplinary research incorporating experimental neuroscience, clinical studies and bioengineering. This prompted some insightful discussion on the Unit’s contribution to the UK’s research and innovation landscape, as well as its alignment with government policy and strategy. Lord O'Shaughnessy then toured Unit facilities, and met with some of the Unit’s early-career scientists who showcased the concepts and technologies underpinning their respective experiments. After lunch, Lord O'Shaughnessy visited Unit research collaborators at the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre and the ARUK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute.

Peter Magill commented, “Lord O’Shaughnessy’s visit was an invaluable opportunity for us to engage and to be engaged. The mutual exchange of knowledge was both invigorating and enlightening. I can highly recommend the Pairing Scheme to other scientists and policymakers.”

We are pleased to welcome Dr David Bergin to the Unit as a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist in the Magill Group.

Dave graduated with a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Otago, New Zealand, during which he examined the effects of agmatine treatment on behavioural and neurochemical biomarkers in models of Alzheimer's disease. He remained at the University of Otago for his first postdoctoral research position in the group led by Unit collaborator Prof. John Reynolds, with whom Dave established a novel model of Parkinsonism to help advance a multidisciplinary drug delivery system. Following this success, Dave moved in 2017 to the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany, to join the EU consortium EPITARGET, where his research was focused on the use of combination therapy with clinically-approved drugs for the prevention of post-insult epileptogenesis.

Here in the Unit, Dave’s work will be centred on the development and delivery of novel in vivo platforms for drug discovery in Parkinson’s disease, as part of the Unit’s new translational research venture with partners at the University of Oxford and FORMA Therapeutics.

We are pleased to welcome Dr Camille Loiseau to the Unit as a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist in the Magill Group.

Camille graduated with a M.Sc. in Integrative Biology and Physiology from Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC) Paris, France, in 2013. As part of her Ph.D. in Neurophysiology that she completed at UPMC in 2017, Camille worked on the neuronal networks that underlie the central respiratory drive. In particular, Camille’s doctoral research elucidated the brainstem-related mechanisms by which progestin impacts on CO2/H+ chemosensitivity.

Here in the Unit, Camille will be defining how the activity dynamics of basal ganglia neurons are perturbed in Parkinsonism, using a combination of in vivo electrophysiological recordings, cell-type-selective manipulations, quantitative neuroanatomy, and behavioural analyses.

We are delighted to announce that the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit has launched its first network of stakeholders for Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in research.

The Unit’s PPI network is supported in part by volunteers from local groups of people affected by Parkinson’s, including patients, carers and their families and friends. Going forward, the Unit will be working with the PPI network to optimise the planning, delivery and communication of Unit research.

Unit Deputy Director, Professor Peter Magill, commented “The creation of our stakeholder network for PPI presents an exciting opportunity for us to get the advice and feedback we need to maximise the impact of our world-leading research. Getting people actively involved should prove to be mutually beneficial as we work towards achieving the Unit’s Mission.”

We are pleased to welcome Mr Calum Mulveen to the Unit as a Research Technician in the Magill Group.

Calum graduated with an M.Sci. (hons.) in Biomedical Sciences from St George’s University of London in 2018. His training included human dissection, basic clinical sciences, and a later specialisation in the area of neuroscience. Calum then worked on a research project focusing on addictive behaviour and neurophysiology, which was carried out through The Erasmus Programme at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Here in the Unit, Calum’s work will be centred on the development and delivery of novel in vivo platforms for drug discovery in Parkinson’s disease, as part of the Unit’s new translational research venture with partners at the University of Oxford and FORMA Therapeutics.

Many congratulations to Unit postdoctoral scientist Dr Petra Fischer who has been awarded the Tilleard-Cole Junior Research Fellowship in Neuroscience at Worcester College, Oxford.

Petra will take up her Fellowship and join the College’s Senior Common Room in October, and is already looking forward to cross-disciplinary discussions and getting involved in College life.

We are pleased to welcome Dr Guy Yona to the Unit as a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist in the Magill Group.

Guy originally graduated with a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and a B.A. in Physics from the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, and then received his M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Tel-Aviv University, Israel. In 2017, Guy obtained his Ph.D. from the Technion, where he studied motor network activity in the brains of spontaneously running animals using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). As part of these studies, Guy also used optogenetic stimulation and models of Parkinsonism. In order to achieve precise spatial control with optogenetics over large areas of the motor cortex, Guy developed a holographic patterned projection system with a chronic implant for use inside the MRI scanner.

Here in the Unit, Guy will be defining the encoding of movement by basal ganglia neurons and how this is perturbed in Parkinsonism, using a combination of in vivo electrophysiological recordings, cell-type-selective manipulations, and behavioural analyses.

Last week, Unit D.Phil. student Eszter Kormann and Unit Group Leader Huiling Tan went to Banbury to visit about 40 members of a local group of people affected by Parkinson’s, including patients, carers and their friends and families.

The visit began with a talk from Eszter on the role of brain rhythms in Parkinson’s, drawing on her work with patients as well as the use of animal models in Parkinson’s research. Huiling then introduced some of the Unit’s research on brain stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson’s, and shared some exciting new developments for improving these therapeutic approaches. Each of the talks was integrated with a lively discussion session in which the audience’s questions came thick and fast, stimulating further conversations about Unit discoveries made in the clinic and at the lab bench.

Feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive, and included: “The presentations were pitched at just the right level for our members, very few of whom have any significant scientific or medical knowledge.” “I was very interested and encouraged to learn that closed-loop Deep Brain Stimulation may be available to some Parkinson’s patients in the future.”