Portrait photo of Dr Rasha Elghaba.

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

Rasha originally graduated with an honors degree in Medicine and General Surgery from Mansoura University, Egypt, in 2005. After successfully finishing a Master’s degree in Medical Physiology from Mansoura University, Rasha joined the University of Sheffield to pursue her Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Rasha’s thesis research and first postdoctoral appointment was focused on defining the activity of, and interactions between, interneurons in the striatum.

Here in the Unit, Rasha will be working as part of a Collaborative Research Network supported by Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s. She will be using photometry and electrophysiology in behaving mice to characterise the signalling dynamics of dopamine and other neuromodulators in the striatum in health and experimental Parkinsonism.

A photo of Laurence Hunt, Oliver Härmson and Sebastien Bouret.

Our congratulations go to Unit D.Phil. student Oliver Härmson for successfully defending his doctoral thesis, entitled “Elucidating the neural correlates of cost-benefit decisions in a rat cortico-basal ganglia network”, in his viva voce examination on 5th January 2023.

Oliver’s viva examiners were Professor Sebastien Bouret (Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epinière, Paris) and Professor Laurence Hunt (University of Oxford).

Oliver was supervised by Professor Andrew Sharott (MRC BNDU) and Professor Mark Walton (Experimental Psychology).

A screen shot from the video The Symphony of the Brain showing Unit student Demi Brizee.

We are delighted to announce that today marks the launch of The Symphony of the Brain, a new video made in partnership with Oxford Sparks to engage the public with research carried out at the MRC BNDU.

Over the summer, the Unit collaborated with Oxford Sparks to create a short documentary about the fascinating world of brain waves, how they are studied in humans and animals, and how a better understanding of them could lead to new therapies for brain diseases. A core theme in the video is that neurons in the brain act like singers in a choir, and that harmony is important in both.

The documentary features Unit researchers Demi Brizee, Shenghong He, Natalie Doig, and Ashwini Oswal, as well as data and images from across the MRC BNDU. It also captures some of the experiences of people living with Parkinson’s.

You can watch the microdocumentary in the player below, or on the YouTube channel of Oxford Sparks, and learn more about the project on the Oxford Sparks website.

The Unit is grateful to everyone who contributed to this project. Our special thanks go to Paul Swadling, the Oxford Branch of Parkinson’s UK, James Jordan and The Westminster Choir at Rider University, Dr James Whitbourn, and St Stephen’s House Oxford.

Left, portrait photo of Dr Colin McNamara. Right, photo of the Award for Open Research.

Congratulations to Unit postdoctoral researcher Dr Colin McNamara on winning the Director’s Award for Open Research for 2022.

The Award is given annually, on the basis of nominations made by Unit members, to recognise and celebrate the exemplary contributions of an individual or small collective to the Unit’s Open Research activities. The Award reflects diverse contributions to Open Research, from the sharing of data, code, experimental protocols and materials, to the promotion of best practice and the provision of enabling infrastructure.

Colin’s Award was announced by Professor Peter Magill at the Unit’s Winter Science Day last week. Professor Magill commented “It is a great pleasure to recognise and reward Colin in this way. Colin has consistently promoted best practice in data management, bringing tangible benefits to Group colleagues as they curate and share their data. Colin has also used the Unit’s Data Sharing Platform to disseminate data and well-annotated code related to his recent research publication, and the Committee were impressed by the fact Colin did so while protecting the value of know-how and intellectual property.”

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

The Unit held its fifteenth Science Day on Friday 9th December 2022. Unpublished work and future research projects were the focus of discussion, and Unit members and visitors enthusiastically took the chance to provide the constructive feedback needed for multidisciplinary team science.

There were 8 short research talks and 17 poster presentations, almost all of which were given by the Unit’s early-career scientists. Attendees were also treated to two Keynote Lectures: A first by Dr. Nir Grossman of the UK Dementia Research Institute and Imperial College London, in which he gave an engaging account of the development and use of non-invasive temporal interference for deep brain stimulation; and a second lecture by Dr. Sharanya Desai of NeuroPace Inc. that showcased insightful generalizable approaches to the refined use of neurotechnology for clinical interventions in people with neurological disorders.

Professor Peter Magill commented: ““A brilliant day, from start to finish. A great opportunity to share ideas and data with colleagues, but also to take stock of our collective progress in the collaborative application of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to brain research. The vigour of the community was really uplifting.”

Photo of a visiting In2scienceUK school pupil working at a lab bench

Over the summer and half-term break, the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit once again hosted school pupils enrolled on an innovative work-experience placement scheme that was organised in partnership with the charity in2scienceUK.

The placement scheme was tailored for pupils from local state-funded schools to support their progress into university degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). During their time in the Unit, the pupils worked alongside Unit researchers and were given personalised mentoring to gain a wide variety of practical experiences, from electrical engineering to electron microscopy. The pupils also learned more about key concepts and challenges in neuroscience and medical research. In parallel to Unit-based activities, the pupils received guidance on university applications, wider information about STEM careers, and training in transferable skills from in2scienceUK. The pupils recorded their experiences and progress in blogs, images, and videos.

Unit researcher Dr Polytimi Frangou commented “I really enjoyed spending time with my student mentee and discussing what a researcher's life is like. I was so impressed by her questions and how quickly she picked up on everything we showed her. I would be keen to be a host again in the future, as I can appreciate what the experience means for students - what I wouldn’t have given to have had that opportunity at her age!”

Visiting pupil Nabila Salex commented “Observing neuroscientists and all the amazing staff at the MRC BNDU was an exciting experience. I participated in experiments, including preparing mouse brain sections on a slide and looking at them with a fluorescence microscope. Thanks to the amazing mentor who organised my work, my time at the Unit was jam-packed with engaging activities, and I looked forward to coming in every day. As a bonus, the placement experience helped me stand out in my personal statement, which led to an offer from a leading university. I would definitely recommend everyone to sign up for the programme!”

Based on the feedback from visiting pupils and Unit researchers alike, the placements were clearly great successes. We wish all the pupils the best for their future STEM careers.

A photo of Hayriye Cagnan, Robert Toth and Nick Ramsey

Our congratulations go to Unit D.Phil. student Robert Toth for successfully defending his doctoral thesis, entitled “Translational pipelines for closed-loop neuromodulation”, in his viva voce examination on 24th October 2023.

Roberts’s viva examiners were Professor Nick Ramsey (University of Utrecht, Netherlands) and Professor Hayriye Cagnan (University of Oxford).

Robert was supervised by Professor Andrew Sharott and Professor Tim Denison at the Unit.

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.”

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.”

Portrait photo of Ben Edwards

We are pleased to welcome Mr Ben Edwards to the Unit as a Research Assistant and Lab Manager in the Magill Group.

Ben graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Biochemistry in 2002. He then joined the MRC Functional Genomics Unit as a Research Assistant working on invertebrate models of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Ben then moved to the lab of Professor Dame Kay Davies in Oxford as a Research Assistant/Lab Manager, where he remained for the next 19 years, working on a number of projects including those using mouse models of ataxia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and schizophrenia. Ben’s research experience includes behavioural studies, molecular biology, epifluorescence and confocal microscopy. Ben was also part of a team that used in vitro screening and in vivo preclinical studies to investigate utrophin modulation therapies in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Here in the Unit, Ben will provides specialised research support to a number of projects in the Magill Group.