We are pleased to welcome Jennifer Culshaw for a summer of research and work experience in the Magill Group. Jennifer is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds, where she pursuing a B.Sc. in Neuroscience. During Jennifer’s time in the Unit, she will work closely with Dr Paul Dodson and Anna-Kristin Kaufmann on a project investigating the diversity of midbrain dopaminergic neurons.
The Unit was well represented in this year’s Paton Prize Talks, with two students (Abhilasha Joshi and Anna-Kristin Kaufmann) each giving a presentation about their ongoing thesis research. Abhilasha, a second-year student co-supervised by Professor Peter Somogyi and Dr David Dupret, was jointly awarded this year’s Paton Prize for her presentation entitled “Hippocampal rhythmic activity and the firing of medial septal neurons in mice navigating in virtual reality”.
The Paton Prize is named in honour of the late Professor Sir William Paton, former Head of the University Department of Pharmacology, and is awarded annually to one or two students on the basis of general research excellence, the quality of presentation and the ability to deal with the adjudicators’ questions.
The Unit held its inaugural Science Day on Friday 29th May 2015. Ongoing and future research projects were the focus of discussion, and Unit members and visitors eagerly took the opportunity to give the constructive criticism that is needed to foster world-leading research.
There were 14 talks and 9 poster presentations, most of which were given by the Unit’s students and early-career scientists. Unit Deputy Director Peter Magill commented “It was fantastic to see the next generation of our talented scientists in action and, most gratifying, to learn from their ruthless questioning of Programme Leaders.”
Our congratulations go to Unit D.Phil. student Federica Vinciati for successfully defending her doctoral thesis, entitled “Electrophysiological properties of striatal neurons in the dopamine-intact and Parkinsonian brain”, in her viva voce examination on 18th May 2015.
Federica’s viva examiners were Dr Mark Ungless (MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College London) and Dr Mark Walton (Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford).
On 7th May, Unit members Peter Magill and Natalie Doig visited Headington School in Oxford to engage with a class of Fifth Form and Sixth Form pupils studying varied science-related subjects. Peter introduced some key concepts of brain organisation and function, why and how we in the Unit study the brain, and the importance of using animals in medical research. Peter further highlighted research on the basal ganglia and its relevance for the understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Natalie then led a practical session in which the pupils observed a variety of nerve cell types and the Unit’s archive brain collection for themselves. After the practical, Natalie talked about careers in neuroscience, highlighting the diverse professions that contribute to neuroscience as a whole, and gave an exciting account of the scope and value of ‘citizen science’. The visit concluded with a lively Q & A session with the students.
On 24th April, Unit member Paul Bolam made one of his regular visits to The Cotswold School, where he talked about medical research with Year 10 students studying ethics. Paul introduced the Unit and its Mission, the various methods used to study the nervous system, how we in the Unit study the brain, and ended with some comments on basal ganglia research and its relevance for the understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Paul chose these topics to illustrate why and how we use animals in medical research. He then talked about the regulation of work on animals in the UK, society’s interaction with animals in a broader context, and anti-vivisection groups. Paul’s talk was followed by an enthusiastic discussion session with the students.
On 20th April 2015, the Oxford Parkinson's Disease Centre (OPDC) held its annual Research Day at the University's new Mathematical Institute. Unit D.Phil. student Anna-Kristin Kaufmann, who is co-supervised by Dr Paul Dodson and Professor Peter Magill, presented a poster entitled "LRRK2 BAC-transgenic rats develop late-stage deficits in dopaminergic transmission and reduced burst firing of SNc dopamine neurons", for which she was jointly awarded the prize for best poster.
Established in 2010, the OPDC is a unique multidisciplinary research centre that brings together lab scientists and clinicians working on the neuronal basis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Unit scientists currently play key roles in OPDC Theme 3, which is focused on the phenotyping of novel animal models of early cell and circuit dysfunction in Parkinson's disease.
Unit Programme Leader David Dupret, Investigator Scientist Tim Viney, D.Phil. Students Abhilasha Joshi and Eszter Korman, and Visiting Students Alison Comrie and Minas Salib, all enthusiastically served on the MRC stand at theOxfordshire Science Festival held in Oxford's Bonn Square on Saturday 7th March 2015. The Unit crew was joined by many other MRC-funded staff and students from MRC Harwell. This year, the Unit team led several interactive displays with a special emphasis on brain plasticity, dementia and memory disorders. A various range of hands-on activities were offered, such as making of brain cells (from pipe cleaners!), observation of Golgi-stained neurons and 3d models of the human brain.
Unit D.Phil student Abhilasha Joshi commented “At the Oxfordshire Science Festival, we had to tailor our activities for an audience encompassing all age groups. We found ourselves in need of some new vocabulary to communicate: 'thorns' for spines and, my favourite, ‘head-box’ for skull. The actvities using the ‘brain plasticity goggles’ were hugely popular. We had some amazing discussions, and surprised many of our visitors with facts like ‘you have billions of nerve cells in your brain’. It was lovely to see many young children diligently making neve cells and networks. One of them remarked that the brain cells she had made were of different ‘types’ because they had different ‘shapes’ and ‘colours’ – that insight made my day!".
Dr Damian Herz has been awarded a European Commission Horizon 2020 Fellowship (StopBeta) to study adaptive brain stimulation as part of Professor Peter Brown’s Group. Damien is particularly interested in how treatment-induced suppression of certain frequencies of movement-related neuronal activity and connectivity in the human brain explains improvements in motor function. He suggests that, in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, selective suppression of abnormal brain activity and preservation of physiological brain mechanisms could be the key to obtaining the best possible clinical benefit whilst avoiding unwanted side effects. Damian has previously been awarded an educational scholarship of the German National Academic Foundation and a Young Researcher Award of the Danish Parkinson Society.
Warm congratulations to MRC Unit student Gido van de Ven for winning the Gotch Memorial Prize 2014, which is given for the best Oxford D.Phil. Transfer Status report of a graduate student in the field of Physiology. The prize comes with an award of £1,000.
For his D.Phil. thesis research, Gido has implemented an unsupervised statistical method to identify and track cell assemblies from multi-unit recordings. Applied to tetrode recordings in the hippocampus of freely-moving mice, this method was shown to identify assemblies with strong spatial tuning that are reactivated during subsequent sleep and reinstated upon re-exposure to the same environment. To study the causal role of cell assembly dynamics in the formation, consolidation and retrieval of spatial memory, Gido has also implemented a closed-loop optogenetic feedback system to transiently silence hippocampal assemblies during on-line detected sharp-wave/ripples events. Gido's DPhil research is supervised by Dr. David Dupret.