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Documentary Award for Cambridge Neuroscientists Imaging Appetite

Cambridge Neuroscientists Miss Kate McAlister (pictured right) and Dr. Al Garfield (pictured left) produce a mini documentary to illustrate how neuroscientists visualise how our brain controls appetite and are awarded a National Award at the Sheffield Documentary Festival.

The documentary demonstrates how recent technological developments have allowed us to peer into the living brain using a non invasive technique known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and help us to understand what happens in the brain to control our appetite. The documentary emphasises Prader-Willi Syndrome, a complex genetic disorder, which is present from birth, where one of the major characteristics of the Syndrome includes excessive appetite. New imaging findings provide hope for developing a new treatment to alleviate some of the symptoms of Prader-Willi Syndrome. This mini-documantary also points to technological imaging developments shaping the definition of free thinking conscious individuals.

This 3 minute short produced by Kate and Al has been entered into the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, and won! Shortlisted by a panel of judges, including Oscar winning director Kevin MacDonald, Kate and Al's film entitled 'The Scanner' went on to win the competition set up by The Chartered Institute for IT on November 5th.

The documentary arose from Kate and Al’s participation in the  ‘Rising Stars’ University of Cambridge Public Engagement Course available for Cambridge based early career academics.

Both Al and Kate research into the genetic disorders of obesity. Al is based at the Department of Pharmacology and supervised by Dr. Lora Heisler whilst Kate McAllister is based at the Dept Psychiatry and supervised by Professor Tony Holland.

Al, pictured above left, commented:

"The sensations of hunger and fullness are the two sides of our appetites, but whilst we often consider them to be feelings of the body, it is actually the brain that coordinates and controls our relationship with food. Understanding the neurological circuits that control this is paramount to the treatment of obesity. Working on Prader-Willi has provided me with a focus for this research but has also highlighted how obesity as a condition is often stigmatised. Kate and I hope this film and our next larger project will go some way to changing public perception and understanding of such conditions."

Kate added:

"Through working with Prader-Willi Syndrome, I am really aware of the stigmas surrounding obesity and wanted to do something to alleviate this. I have been really surprised at what a great reception the film has had from patients and families. People with Prader-Willi Syndrome who have seen the film have been really heartened to know that there are researchers out there who are focused on understanding more about conditions of appetite which, for me, reiterates the importance of public engagement. Working with Al has highlighted how successful inter-departmental collaboration within Cambridge can be."

To view the documentary entitled 'The Scanner' please click here.


Together with the film's director Ed McGown, and director of photography, Rob Hollingworth, Kate and Al are in the process of applying for a science communication grant that would go towards creating a film focused solely on the role of genetics in conditions of obesity such as Prader-Willi Syndrome

Article by Dr. Hannah Critchlow, Cambridge Neuroscience Strategic Manager.

Posted on 05/11/2010

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