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Review of a wonderful 'Neural Networks' #NNHD2017

The biennial Cambridge Neuroscience Symposium attracts neuroscientists from within and well beyond Cambridge. The theme for this symposium is ‘Neural Networks in Health and Disease’ comprising seven sessions including ‘Building Circuits’, ‘Network Analysis and Functional Circuits’, ‘Ageing Circuits’, ‘Emotional Circuits’ and ‘Modulating Circuits’. Recent technological developments have enabled us to study neural networks and circuits at unprecedented level of detail. At the same time, network science has come of age to be able to analyse these new data. Together, great new insights into brain function and dysfunction have emerged. This symposium brought together experts in these fields of neuroscience to take us to the forefront of our current understanding of modern brain science.


The event was attended by 360 delegates and featured 22 research talks and over 80 research posters. The symposium was opened by the outgoing Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.


Session One (Network analysis and functional circuits) opened with Professor Albert Laszlo Barabasi delivering a talk on ‘Taming Complexity: Controlling Networks’, followed by Dimitri ‘Mitya’ Chklovskii from the Simons Foundation in New York. The morning session concluded with Professor Ed Callaway (pictured right, who made the Rabies virus for labelling of mono-synaptically connected neurons) from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, who delivered the Alan Hodgkin plenary lecture. Further sessions on day one expanded on the theme ranging from ‘Building circuits and neurodevelopmental disorders’ (which included a talk from Professor Josh Sanes, Harvard University (co-inventor of the Brainbow mouse)), ‘Adaptive circuits and network plasticity’ through to ‘Emotional circuits and Psychiatric disorders’. Day 1 concluded with the traditional conference dinner at Trinity college, which was attended by 200 delegates. Co-Director of Cambridge Neuroscience, Professor Ole Paulsen took the opportunity (on behalf of Cambridge Neuroscience) to thank his colleague Professor Ed Bullmore for his four years acting as the Clinical Co-Director of Cambridge Neuroscience (both pictured right with Dr Dervila Glynn, Cambridge Neuroscience Coordinator). For the early birds attending the first session on day 2, Dr Madeline Lancaster from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology gave a fascinating talk introducing us to the world of Cerebral organoids - brains grown on a dish from human stem cells. Parkinson’s disease then took over with talks from Professors Stephanie Cragg and Tipu Aziz, both visiting us from Oxford. Session six straddled the lunch break and covered ‘Modulating circuits, sleep and eating’ with talks from former Brain Prize winner Gero Miesenboeck, Michael Hastings, Denis Burdakov and Sadaf Farooqi. Ironically, Professor Farooqi’s excellent and engaging talk on the neuroscience of human appetite came just before the ice cream and scones that were served at the last refreshment break! Fittingly, the final session of the symposium covered Ageing circuits and Dementia’ with talks from Drs Julie Harris (Allen Brain Institute) and Cambridge’s own, Dennis Chan who described his virtual reality tests of spatial navigation and memory. The conference ended with the final plenary – The Andrew Huxley Lecture – which was delivered by Professor William (Bill) Seeley (pictured right) from UCSF who gave an inspired talk, with captivating images, on network-based neurodegeneration.


Following the final plenary lecture, Professor Bill Seeley joined delegates for a drinks reception to close the meeting. All in all, a fitting ending to the biennial Cambridge Neuroscience symposium, which again provided an exciting glimpse of the cutting edge of neuroscience.


Besides lectures, the conference also had a data blitz for early career investigators. 12 speakers (chosen by the Cambridge Neuroscience committee based on their submitted abstracts) took the challenge to deliver their scientific message in 2 minutes. Chaired by Dr Kirstie Whitaker (pictured right), this was an exciting session where the speakers did an excellent job bringing their research to life!

The lunch- and coffee breaks brought together neuroscientists from a variety of backgrounds, from sub-cellular to systems scientists focusing on developmental disorders and psychopathology. These discussions often extended beyond the boundaries of the meeting itself, with several attendants tweeting live updates from the conference (#NNHD2017), allowing people from across the globe to virtually join the meeting. 


An aspect, which remains important to the core of Cambridge Neuroscience meetings, is to foster excellent neuroscientific research here in Cambridge. To this end, 80 scientific posters were on display and although the standard of research was high, a team of judges (recruited from Cambridge Neuroscience and led by Dr Ewan Smith) agreed on two outstanding group winners. Each winner received a £200 prize sponsored by Cambridge Neuroscience. Letizia Mariotti and Laura Masullo (Marco Tipodi’s lab) from the MRC Labortaory of Molecular Biology jointly won a prize for their work on “Genetic dissection of circuits underlying the modular structure of the Superior Collicilus” while Raquel Real from Imperial College London (in collaboration with colleagues from the Livesey lab at the Gurdon Institute) won the other prize for her poster entitled “Neuronal network dysfunction in a new humanised model of Down syndrome.”


Take a look at this great blog where PhD student Sampurna Chakrabarti (@fluorescence_SC ) from the Department of Pharmacology gives her overview of her favourite talks at the conference. 


Check out the photos from #NNHD2017 – drop a line if you would like a high-resolution version of any of the photographs.


Cambridge Neuroscience would like to thank all of the speakers, the sponsors, those who presented posters, the poster judges, chairs, the delegates and of course all those who volunteered at “Neural Networks in Health and Disease”.

Posted on 30/10/2017

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