Image
Portrait photo of Ashwini Oswal

We are delighted to announce that Dr Ashwini Oswal is today taking up his new role as Group Leader at the Unit.

Ashwini is well known to Unit members, having already collaborated with several groups over the last 5 years on research defining the neuronal network effects of Deep Brain Stimulation used to treat Parkinson’s and other movement disorders. Ashwini was recently awarded an MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship, which he will use to make the transition to independent investigator and lead his own research team. The focus of Ashwini's new research programme funded by the Medical Research Council is to provide an understanding of how time-resolved activity within brain networks can contribute to the cognitive and motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The new insights gained will be used to inform improved brain stimulation approaches for therapy.

Unit Interim Director Professor Peter Magill commented: “We are thrilled that Ash has chosen to start his independent research programme at the Unit. Ash’s research vision is exceptionally well aligned with our discovery and translational science portfolios and, as a clinically-active healthcare professional, he brings distinctive expertise in neurology to the Unit. We look forward to working in close collaboration with Ash during his Fellowship.”

Image
A photo of Professor Huiling Tan

Many congratulations to Unit Group Leader Huiling Tan on being awarded the title of Professor of Human Electrophysiology and Neuromodulation by the University of Oxford.

Titles of Full Professor are conferred annually in recognition of an individual’s significant influence on their field of study, as well as their track records in teaching and academic citizenship.

Unit Interim Director Professor Peter Magill commented “I am delighted that Huiling’s many achievements have been recognised by the University in this way. Huiling’s studies of the neuronal dynamics underlying purposeful movement, and her development and use of brain-computer interfaces, are pioneering and have major implications for improving clinical therapies for brain disorders. Together with other colleagues at the Unit, I offer warmest congratulations to Huiling on receiving this well-deserved accolade.”

Image
Portrait photo of Ioana Grigoras

Our congratulations go to Unit D.Phil. student Ioana Grigoras for successfully defending her doctoral thesis, entitled “Investigating the role of inhibition in human motor learning”, in her viva voce examination on 5th August 2022.

Ioana’s viva examiners were Professor Ulf Ziemann (University of Tübingen, Germany) and Professor Matthew Rushworth (University of Oxford). The viva took place remotely via digital conferencing.

Ioana was supervised by Professor Charlotte Stagg (MRC BNDU) and Professor Catherine Harmer (Department of Psychiatry).

Image
Portrait photos of Charlotte Collingwood (left) and Vivienne Collins (right)

Congratulations to Unit student Charlotte Collingwood and Unit Administrator Dr Vivienne Collins on co-winning the Director’s Award for Public Engagement for 2022.

The Award recognises and celebrates the exemplary contributions of individuals or a small collective to the Unit’s extensive Outreach programme. The Award is given annually (this being the seventh occasion), on the basis of nominations made by Unit members.

Charlotte and Vivienne received their Awards from Unit Interim Director Professor Peter Magill at a special ceremony held at the Unit’s biannual Science Day.

Professor Magill commented “It gives us all great pleasure to reward Charlotte and Viv in this way. Charlotte has shown great enthusiasm and personal initiative in public engagement in her first year as a D.Phil. student here. Charlotte has formed new partnerships with outreach initiatives, and her podcasting skills are to be admired! Viv has played key roles in devising and delivering the Unit’s public engagement activities over the last 7 years, and the success of these activities stem from Viv’s dedication, planning and logistics skills. Viv’s colleagues clearly value her organisational brilliance and the outstanding support that she gives them.”

Image
A group photo of attendees at the Unit’s Science Day in summer 2022.

The Unit held its fourteenth Science Day on Friday 24th June 2022. Unpublished work and future research projects were at the centre of discussion, and Unit members and visitors eagerly took the opportunity to provide the informal constructive feedback that is essential for fostering collaborative working and team science.

There were 9 short research talks and 19 poster presentations, most of which were given by the Unit’s early-career scientists. Attendees were also treated to a Keynote Lecture from Dr Marc Aurel Busche of the UK Dementia Research Institute, in which he gave a discerning account of the impact of amyloid protein on neuronal circuit function.

Unit Interim Director Professor Peter Magill commented: “It was a great pleasure to hold our first in-person Science Day since late 2019. Unit members were energised by the chance to meet and exchange ideas under the same roof, and it was exciting to see how the work of the Unit’s students and postdoctoral staff is revealing important new insights into brain function and dysfunction.”

Image
Photograph of Dr Helen Barron

Many congratulations to Unit scientist Dr Helen Barron on being awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.

UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships support talented early-career researchers to deliver ambitious and innovative programmes of research over several years. Helen will take up her Fellowship in June 2022, and will establish and lead her own research team across the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit and the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, both of which are hosted by the Nuffield Department for Clinical Neurosciences.

Over the last few years, Helen has worked as a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist in Professor David Dupret’s Group in the Unit, where she has used a cross-species approach to uncover cell- and circuit-level mechanisms of memory in the brain. The goal of Helen’s new research programme funded by UKRI is to establish the specialized biological mechanisms that gate and control selective memory recall and explain why disturbances in memory gating may underpin core symptoms in neuropsychiatric disease.

Unit Interim Director Professor Peter Magill commented: “We are thrilled for Helen. She is an outstanding researcher, and a valued colleague and collaborator. Helen’s research vision brilliantly complements the Unit’s discovery and translational science portfolios, and we look forward to working with Helen during her Fellowship. Helen’s success provides another ringing endorsement of the Unit’s commitment to excellence in the research training and career development of its membership.”

Image
Protrait photo of Hayriye Cagnan

We are delighted to announce that Unit Group Leader Associate Professor Hayriye Cagnan 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.

Hayriye commented, “I am thrilled to be part of this programme and to learn from previous generations who navigated similar challenges.”

Image
Cartoon of a person standing next to desk with a computer on it. The person has a brain implant that is communicating with the computer and is responding to and guiding the person’s arm movements.

We are delighted to announce that the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit is set to play key roles in delivering on two new EPSRC/MRC-funded Network Plus grants that are designed to build capability for responsible research across a breadth of neurotechnologies.

The first of the new networks, which is focused on meeting the challenges presented by closed-loop interactions between brains and machines, will see the Unit forming new collaborations with researchers based at the University of Newcastle, the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and the University of Manchester. Unit Group Leader Associate Professor Andrew Sharott will lead the Unit’s contribution to this new research network.

The second network, which is focused on addressing the challenges of developing minimally-invasive treatments for brain disorders, will see the Unit forming new collaborations with researchers based at Imperial College London, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Edinburgh. Unit Group Leader Associate Professor Hayriye Cagnan will lead the Unit’s contribution to this new research network.

Each of the new networks will also involve other Unit Groups, and will connect the academic teams with industry, research charities, the NHS, and patient groups.

Unit Interim Director Professor Peter Magill commented “This is a great opportunity for Andrew, Hayriye and Unit colleagues to form new interdisciplinary research communities and facilitate knowledge transfer and exchange across sectors. The networks are well positioned to explore the full potential of neurotechnologies for advancing discovery and translational research.”

Image
Photo of MRC BNDU members attending the Unit Training and Careers Development Event 2022

The Unit held its seventh annual Training & Careers Development Event on Thursday 28th April.

Unit Interim Director Professor Peter Magill started the Event by updating Unit members on key elements of the UKRI’s new Open Access Policy. This was followed by an insightful presentation from Professor Ester Hammond, Director of the Oxford-MRC Doctoral Training Programme, in which she gave some well-received advice on supervising and coaching students (and staff). Unit Group Leader Professor Tim Denison then gave an engaging and informative talk on “SMART goal setting” in the context of science and engineering, drawing on examples from both academia and industry. The General Session ended with Unit Group Leader Professor Charlotte Stagg highlighting the opportunities afforded by the Unit’s bespoke Mentoring Scheme for Postdoctoral Researchers.

In the first of two subsequent break-out workshops, Dr. Cassandra Gould van Praag, Open Science Community Engagement Co-ordinator, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, led an interactive discussion of the whys, whens, and hows of best practice in Open Data. In the second workshop, Deirdre Newman and Eliza Tinson of the NDCN professional services team offered some valuable guidance on the practicalities (and common pitfalls) of research grant management, all with a view to maximising the benefits of funding.

The Event was held at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, and was the first Unit-wide gathering held in person since before the start of the Covid pandemic.

Professor Charlie Stagg, Chair of the Unit’s Training & Career Development Committee, commented “Specialised training and career support is a strategic priority for the MRC BNDU, and it was hugely important to us to come together in person to deliver this event. Special thanks to our guest speakers, who generously shared their expertise and experience for the benefit of Unit members. We look forward to putting their great advice into practice.”

Dopamine neurons in the brain.

We are delighted to announce that the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit has received Collaborative Award funding from Wellcome for a substantial multi-year research programme designed to advance the understanding of dopamine neuron dysfunction in Parkinson’s.

The new Collaborative Award builds on the MRC Unit’s interactions with colleagues at the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, and will bring three Oxford teams together with researchers based at the University of Ulm, Germany, and at University College London. As part of this collaboration, the MRC Unit will leverage its leading expertise in high-resolution in vivo phenotyping of rodent models of Parkinson’s.

Wellcome Collaborative Awards promote the development of new ideas and speed the pace of discovery. The Awards fund teams of researchers, consisting of independent research groups, to work together on the most important scientific problems that can only be solved through collaborative efforts.

Professor Peter Magill, who will lead the Unit’s contribution to the new research programme, commented, “This Collaborative Award presents an exciting opportunity for Unit researchers to team up with other experts and tackle the science from different angles using complementary approaches. It is an excellent fit to the Unit’s wider strategy supporting both fundamental and translational neuroscience research. We look forward to working with our collaborators as we pursue our shared goal of defining why dopamine neurons are so vulnerable in Parkinson’s.”