Congratulations to Unit Group Leader Dr Helen Barron on being awarded the title of Associate Professor by the University of Oxford.
Associate Professor titles are conferred annually in recognition of an individual’s distinction in their field as well as their wider contributions to research, teaching and administration/citizenship.
Unit Director Professor Peter Magill commented “We are delighted for Helen. This title is richly deserved, reflecting Helen’s remarkable research performance as well as many other academic achievements. Helen’s career is clearly flourishing!
Congratulations to Unit Group Leader Professor Charlie Stagg who has been named as the Physiological Society GL Brown Prize Lecturer for 2024.
The GL Brown Prize Lecture Series is awarded annually by The Physiological Society to recognise outstanding original research contributions in physiology as well as the ability to stimulate wider interest in physiology. The Prize is named in honour of Sir George Lindor Brown FRS who was Waynflete Professor of Physiology at the University of Oxford. The Lecture Series will enable Professor Stagg to visit universities around the country and share her work in physiology with early-career researchers.
You can read more about this year's recipients of Prize Lectures on The Physiological Society website.
The Unit held its eighth annual Training & Careers Development Event on Wednesday 19th April. Unit members, together with colleagues from the University of Oxford, were treated to a range of enlightening presentations, each of which was followed by an engaging Q & A session.
Unit Director Professor Peter Magill started the Event by reiterating some key aspects of the Unit’s approach to training and career development. This was followed by an insightful joint presentation by Dr Laura Newell and Dr Benedicte Menn of Oxford University Innovation about ways and means of commercialising research, focusing on the protection of Intellectual Property and the creation of spinout companies. Ginny Matthews of the University’s Assurance Directorate and James Lee of NDCN’s professional services team then gave a joint presentation and some welcome practical advice on navigating the UK’s General Data Protection Regulation and best practice for compliant data sharing. Unit Administrator Vivienne Collins then concluded the general session by giving some well-received guidance on the do’s and don’ts of expenses claims.
In the first of two break-out workshops held after refreshments, Charlotte Houghton of the University’s Environmental Sustainability team led an interactive discussion about the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) scheme at Oxford. Unit postdoctoral researcher Dr Camille Loiseau then related her experiences of implementing LEAF at the Unit. In the second workshop, Dr Joanna Bagniewska of the University’s Department of Paediatrics offered some valuable recommendations on how to use social media to enhance career visibility for research.
Professor Charlotte Stagg, Chair of the Unit’s Training & Career Development Committee, commented “The provision of bespoke training and career support continues to be a priority for the Unit. We are most grateful to our expert speakers, and we look forward to acting on their great advice.”
We are delighted to share the new video written and filmed by Unit D.Phil. Student Charlotte Collingwood in partnership with Oxford Sparks.
Why did stress evolve? What are the stages of stress, and is there anything we can do to help combat long-term issues? You can find the answers to these questions in the new Oxford Sparks video, where Charlotte discusses where stress comes from, how it affects your brain and what we can do to keep it from ‘turning bad’.
Charlotte was one of the Oxford Sparks Ambassadors last year, an initiative that aims to create open, fun and accessible content highlighting the exciting scientific research at the University of Oxford. You can watch "When Stress Turns Bad" on the YouTube channel of Oxford Sparks or on the Oxford Sparks website. You can also watch "The Symphony of The Brain", a video made in partnership with Oxford Sparks to engage the public with research carried out at the MRC BNDU.
Charlotte has also recently started a competitive three-month internship at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, where she will be creating even more engaging content in collaboration with their digital media team.
On the 21st of March, the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit welcomed pupils and teachers from local state-funded schools to its annual Schools Open Day.
During the visit, the pupils took the opportunity to learn more about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and medical research from Unit staff and students. The visit started with a group introductory session, where pupils viewed the “The Symphony of the Brain” video showcasing the work conducted in the Unit, followed by a discussion on the use of animals in research. After that, the pupils rotated in small groups through different hands-on activities led by Unit members, highlighting the Unit’s core research themes. These activities included a lab-based microscopy session exploring the study of Parkinson's in rodents, a demonstration of human brain stimulation, and a computer game simulating patterns of brain activity. The pupils also saw a live demonstration of a brain-computer interface speller which read brain signals to type words. The visit ended with a wrap-up session and feedback capture.
Overall, the event was a success, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from both students and teachers.
Chloe Crozier-Behan, Head of Chemistry at The Swan School, commented “I just wanted to say a huge thank you to you and your team for the visit yesterday! Our students (and our staff) had such a fantastic time and learned so much! It was especially brilliant for our non-biologists to see the range of disciplines all working together!”.
Mandy Hoosein, Careers Co-Ordinator at the Oxford Spires Academy, commented "Absolutely amazing day from start to finish. Very well looked after".
Liz Hounsell, Sixth Form Pastoral Assistant at the Gosford Hill School, commented “It is really useful for students to gain understanding of where staff have come from, especially PhD students, and what degree they did, and to understand that a subject such as neuroscience has a cross-section of different disciplines within it”.
We are pleased to welcome Mia Whitefields as a rotation student on a doctoral training programme.
Mia studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge with an MSci in Systems Biology. During her masters she completed a research project investigating how temporal statistical learning is altered in individuals with chronic pain, supervised by Dr Flavia Mancini. Mia is now in her first year of the Interdisciplinary Biosciences Doctoral Training Programme, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). As part of the programme, Mia completed a rotation project investigating compositional learning in artificial neural networks, supervised by Professor Chris Summerfield.
Mia is joining us to participate in her next rotation project, supervised by Dr Helen Barron, and will be studying predictive coding in the hippocampus by analysing calcium imaging data recorded during an inference task.
Many congratulations to Unit D.Phil. student Faissal Sharif on being selected to join the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) Scholars Programme.
The BNA Scholars Programme was launched in 2021 with a view to improving equality, diversity and inclusion in neuroscience. The programme supports students from currently under-represented ethnic groups in neuroscience, offering them a mentoring scheme, networking opportunities, and membership to both the BNA and Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, as well as funding towards attendance at conferences. Students are accepted on to the Scholars Programme following an annual open competition.
Faissal’s D.Phil. research is currently focused on novel non-invasive brain stimulation applications targeting psychiatric symptoms present in a variety of affective and neurological disorders. Beyond potential new transdiagnostic treatments using neurotechnology, Faissal is interested in the neuronal underpinnings of affective processing, anhedonia and apathy. Faissal is supervised by Professor Huiling Tan.
Faissal is the Unit’s second BNA Scholar, now joining Unit student Cal Shearer on the Programme.
We are delighted to announce that the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit has received Grand Challenge Award funding from the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) for a multi-year research partnership designed to advance the understanding of early changes to the operations of brain circuits in Alzheimer’s disease.
The UK DRI Grand Challenge Award will support a collaboration between the Dupret Group at the MRC Unit and researchers based at University College London, and will be led by UK DRI Group Leader Dr. Marc Aurel Busche. The team will work together to develop a biomarker for Alzheimer’s that can be used to identify and monitor early signs of the disease. The MRC Unit will leverage its leading expertise in the electrophysiological interrogation of brain functions underlying memory, focusing on state-of-the-art mouse models of Alzheimer’s. The Award will also support parallel studies in human research participants at the UK DRI, offering a valuable opportunity for cross-species translation of research discoveries.
Professor David Dupret, who will lead the Unit’s contribution to the collaborative programme, commented: “The work funded by this award will tackle a genuinely grand challenge in dementia research, that is, the development and validation of a functional circuit-based biomarker for Alzheimer’s. It is an exciting opportunity for our researchers to team up with colleagues in London and use complementary approaches to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying memory in both animal models and humans. We look forward to working with our partners as we pursue our shared goal of meeting this grand challenge.”
Unit Director Professor Peter Magill commented “We are delighted for David and his collaborators. This Grand Challenge Award is the first substantial investment of the UK DRI in the Unit’s research. It not only reflects David’s leading position in his field, but also the Unit’s distinctive contributions to the national ecosystem supporting research and innovation in neurodegenerative diseases. It is an excellent fit to the Unit’s wider strategy fostering both fundamental and translational neuroscience research across species.”
You can read more about this Grand Challenge Award on the UK DRI website.
We are pleased to welcome Yasmine Maurice to the Unit as a visiting student.
Yasmine is a Master's student from the HEC Montréal (Quebec, Canada). During her 6-month visit to the BNDU, Yasmine will join the Stagg lab and work on a project that aims to increase the accessibility of information technologies. Specifically, she will investigate how to help stroke survivors with visual or motor difficulties use assistive technologies. This research will be building on Félix Giroux's work, a former visiting student in the Unit.
We are pleased to welcome Mareike Gann to the Unit as a visiting academic.
Mareike is a postdoctoral researcher from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (Germany), whose research focuses on multi-modal network stimulation. During her 6-month visit to the Unit, Mareike will join the Stagg lab to conduct a complex study which will combine neuroimaging and non-invasive brain stimulation techniques. More specifically, she will investigate the effect of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) on functional connectivity between the motor cortices and related behaviour. This project will build on Mareike’s previous experience combining non-invasive brain stimulation and MRI. During her PhD project at KU Leuven (Belgium), she studied whether brain stimulation can modulate neural response in motor memory networks.