The Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford (MRC BNDU) is a strategic partnership between the Medical Research Council and the University of Oxford. The MRC BNDU is exceptional across the world in placing research on the temporal dynamics of brain networks at the hub of discovery and treatment.
The MRC BNDU opened in April 2015, with Professor Peter Brown as its Founding Director. Professor Peter Magill is now Unit Director. The MRC BNDU operates over three sites affiliated to the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the Department of Engineering Science.
Our ultimate goal is to develop recurrent Brain Computer Interfaces that selectively and strategically target circuit malfunctions in neurological and psychiatric disorders. To realise this, we will define the cellular basis of network dynamics and their disturbance at the levels of microcircuits, scale up from these insights to explain systems behaviour and phenotype, and develop and implement spatiotemporally-patterned neuronal manipulation for therapy.
The MRC BNDU is unique in having as its goal the development of novel therapeutic approaches for the correction of identified pathological neuronal network dynamics in distributed and complex systems across the brain, whilst integrating linked clinical and animal model studies. Our goal is challenging, and will take time to realise fully. Nevertheless, our choice of two major sets of brain circuits, the neocortical-hippocampal-amygdala system and the basal ganglia-thalamocortical system, ensures that our research strategy is focussed and tractable.
- Delivering ground-breaking discoveries within a framework designed to improve human health and wellbeing.
- Training, supporting and deploying skilled researchers.
- Advancing, applying and disseminating knowledge and technology.
- Fostering a dialogue with the public about medical research.
The MRC BNDU provides an exceptional training and mentoring environment for undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, technologists, academic clinicians, professional support staff, and visiting scientists at all career levels and from all over the world. The MRC BNDU is an outward-looking and international community, which is reflected and endorsed by its diverse membership. The MRC BNDU fosters education, career development and capacity building through a work culture founded on:
- Leadership by example.
- Small, highly-interactive research Groups.
- ‘Hands on’ training by senior staff.
- An emphasis on creative, innovative and critical thinking.
- Access to state-of-the-art facilities.
- Clear and informal communication.
- Transparent assessment and feedback processes.
- Appropriate recognition and reward.
- Consultation with and buy-in from Unit members of all levels.
Promoting the MRC BNDU’s ability to recruit and develop individuals of outstanding talent is a key priority for us. We offer instruction and mentoring in a wide range of neuroscientific concepts, disciplines and technologies, including electrophysiology (in vivo and ex vivo), advanced methods for cell manipulation (e.g. optogenetics), anatomy, behavioural analyses, computational modelling, experimental medicine, and biomedical engineering. In capitalising on the excellent calibre of our Group Leaders, and a strong local scientific, administrative and pastoral infrastructure, the MRC BNDU is well placed to make important contributions to the nurturing of the next generation of research leaders for the UK and abroad. In fulfilment of the our unique expertise and positioning, special focus is brought to bear on us building national capacity in the MRC Skill Priorities of in vivo physiology and quantitative skills (e.g. computation, systems biology and neuroinformatics). In addition, we advance Interdisciplinary Strategic Skills through the combination of complementary non-clinical and clinical research Programmes within the same Unit. For example, the MRC BNDU is especially well suited to offering opportunities in: (1) the training of medical students and qualified clinicians in fundamental ‘benchside’ neuroscience research methods and concepts; (2) clinical lab placements for non-clinical students; and (3) the training of students in computational modelling and neuroinformatics. Our unique research environment is further strengthened by our collaborative links with the medical devices and pharmaceuticals industries. To find out more about the research-based and other positions currently on offer at the MRC BNDU, please visit our Vacancies webpage.
We are committed to promoting the highest standards in research culture and professional/career development, for all our members. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI; of which the Medical Research Council is part) and Universities UK (which includes the University of Oxford) are signatories to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, an agreement between stakeholders to improve the employment and support for researchers and researcher careers in higher education in the UK. As further evidence of this commitment, the University has successfully gained (and retained) the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research Award. This reflects a UK-wide process, incorporating the QAA Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes and the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, and acknowledges the University’s alignment with the principles of the European Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. UKRI and the University of Oxford are also signatories of the Technician Commitment, a sector-wide initiative that aims to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research, across all disciplines. The University as a whole has been granted an Athena SWAN Silver Award, as has the MRC BNDU's host department, the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. The Athena SWAN Awards at the Univertsity of Oxford recognise success in developing good employment practices for women in higher education, but in so doing, also offer a valuable framework for cultural changes that create a better working environment for both women and men.
The MRC BNDU hosts about 10-15 graduate students at any time, and applications are invited from prospective students wishing to pursue research in areas covered by at the Unit. To find out more about the Unit’s current research, please visit our Groups page. To find out more about the MRC-funded doctoral training studentships currently on offer at the MRC BNDU, please visit our Studentships webpage. Feel free to email any of the Group Leaders to learn more about student research opportunities in the MRC BNDU. The Unit’s Ph.D./D.Phil. students are registered as members of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences or other Departments at the University of Oxford. They are also members of an Oxford college and have full use of University facilities as well as those of the Unit. We also regularly host undergraduate students, including those enrolled in one of the University of Oxford’s Final Honours School programmes as well as visiting students from other institutions. We also welcome enquiries from A-Level students wishing to gain work experience in one of the Unit’s Groups (please note that the Unit can only host students for work experience in a lab-based environment when the student is 16 years of age or older at the start of the work experience period).
The MRC BNDU is committed to “translating” research discoveries and technological advancements in a way that can be used by industry, policy makers and healthcare professionals to deliver tangible improvements to human health. The core objectives of the MRC BNDU’s Knowledge Transfer and Exchange Strategy are to:
- Be a trusted source of information about brain network dynamics in health and disease.
- Translate our research into policy and practice.
- Pass on our academic know-how to industry and clinical practice.
- Develop innovative ways through digital technology to communicate and disseminate our science.
The MRC BNDU is committed to developing and implementing best practice in open research, with a view to increasing the use and understanding of our research by all of our stakeholders. This facilitates the discovery process and hence, accelerates clinical translation. Where possible, the MRC BNDU’s research papers are published in an Open Access format, so that the products of our research are made freely accessible to all in a timely manner. Every research paper published by the MRC BNDU is also deposited on a freely-accessible public database (Europe PMC). Our research papers are also available on our Publications webpage. The MRC BNDU also generates research data and novel analytical frameworks that hold significant long-term value for the wider research community. We recognise that the sharing and reproducibility of research are of key importance, and Unit scientists are encouraged to maximise opportunities for this. In 2018, the MRC BNDU created its own bespoke Data Sharing Platform, which hosts a range of primary data, metadata and related resources that can be readily downloaded by external users. Data recorded from people are always anonymised prior to sharing. Written requests for data, metadata and code not already hosted on the Data Sharing Platform can be addressed to the MRC BNDU’s Data Access Committee (c/o Dr. Vivienne Collins). Both the Medical Research Council and the University of Oxford have signed up to the Concordat on Open Research Data.
The MRC BNDU is committed to the effective and timely communication of its research and other activities, as well as to engaging and involving our diverse stakeholders, such as the public (including local schools and community groups), patient groups/associations, charities, the wider research and innovation communities (both national and international), the Medical Research Council, the University of Oxford, local and national government, industry (including pharma and medical devices), and the Media. If you would like to learn more about the MRC BNDU’s public engagement and communications activities, please visit the Outreach webpage.