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A successful Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar was had!

Thursday the 17th of March, 2011 saw the launch of the 23rd Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar (CNS). Entitled ‘From eponym and acronym to mechanistic taxonomy’, this year’s event was hosted by the Department of Clinical Neuroscience and was organised by Dr. Hannah Critchlow (Cambridge Neuroscience) and Professor Alastair Compston (Department of Clinical Neuroscience). With >440 delegates and featuring 90 scientific posters, this year’s meeting was the most well attended CNS since its inception 23 years ago.

The extensive programme gave a snapshot into the extent of neuroscience research here in Cambridge and featured many distinguished local and international speakers. Introduced by Professor Alastair Compston, the morning session covered proteinopathies and neurodegeneration and featured talks on autophagy in Huntington’s disease by Professor David Rubensztein (Department of Medical Genetics), the epidemiology of mild cognitive impairment by Professor Carol Brayne (Department of Public Health) and the role of tau pathology in dementia by Dr Michel Goedert (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology).

The first plenary lecture of the day was delivered by Professor Mathias Jucker of the Hertie Institute and Center for Neurodegenerative diseases in Tübingen. Professor Jucker described how β-amyloidosis could be induced exogenously by a prion-like mechanism, in different mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), by the application of AD patient brain extracts containing aggregated Aβ (amyloid-β peptide). Since mechanisms that allow the transmission of pathogenic proteins (Aβ aggregates or Aβ seeds and potentially other misfolded proteins) from the periphery to the brain exist, Professor Jucker speculated that it is possible that such Aβ seeds might potentially act as biomarkers for later disease onset or even as therapeutic targets.

The mid-morning session entitled Neuropsychiatric traits’ introduced a more clinical aspect to the programme with three local speakers from the Department of Psychiatry. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen discussed the foetal androgen theory of autism where he suggested that foetal testosterone is a key factor underlying social development thus plays an important role in autism. Dr Graham Murray delivered an interesting talk on the biology of delusion formation in schizophrenia. The session concluded with Dr Karen Ersche describing her study, which explored the genetic risk for drug addiction, in which she compared personality assessments, neuropsychological tests and brain scans from drug users, their non drug-taking siblings and unrelated non drug users.

After lunch and some fervent poster viewing, the afternoon session focused on the topic of mitochondrial dysfunction in the context of human disease and featured the work of Professor Patrick Chinnery from Newcastle University and local researchers; Dr Guy Brown (Department of Biochemistry), Professor Christine Holt (PDN) and Dr Leonid Sazanov (MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit). The session concluded with a plenary lecture delivered by distinguished speaker, Sir John Walker (MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit). It is known that 1 person in 6000 of the UK population is affected by a mitochondrial DNA mutation. He described the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and AD, and how the study of the basic biochemical processes in mitochondria is leading to a greater understanding of the aetiology of these diseases and vice versa.

The public plenary lecture given by Professor Ed Bullmore (Department of Psychiatry, MRC and Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute). Entitled ‘Brains, minds and their connectivity’, Professor Bullmore described his work on human brain networks and discussed their commonality with other information processing networks that we are familiar with in our daily lives such as those involved in computer chips and the stock market. Further, he described how an understanding of normal human brain networks may help in the possible treatment of mental health disorders, where abnormal brain network organisation occurs, such as schizophrenia.

Professor Bullmore, with a little help from Cambridge Neuroscience and the University Communications Office, conducted a live twitter experiment during the public lecture. Before and during the lecture, members of the public were invited to tweet their comments on his talk. The resulting twitter network was presented at the end of the talk and served to illustrate how very different networks share many key organisational properties. The public lecture was hosted by Cambridge Neuroscience in association with the Cambridge Science Festival to coincide with Brain Awareness week.

The Twitter Brain Team included:

The Twitter Brain Idea: conceived by Dr. Hannah Critchlow Cambridge Neuroscience Strategic Manager, working with Mr Nick Saffell, University Communications Office.

Twitter Brain Coding: Mr. Barney Brown on behalf of the University Communications Office.

Twitter Brain Scientific Visualisation: Dr. Petra Vertes and Naaman Tammuz on behalf of Cambridge Neuroscience and the Brain Mapping Unit, Department of Psychiatry, University  of Cambridge

Twitter Brain Presenter: Professor Ed Bullmore, Department of Psychiatry, Brain Mapping Unit, Behavioural Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, GlaxoSmithKline

An aspect which remains important to the core of CNS is to foster excellent neuroscientific research here in Cambridge. To this end, 90 scientific posters were on display and although the standard of research was high, a team of judges (recruited from the Cambridge Neuroscience Committee) agreed on three outstanding group winners. Each winner received a £100 prize and an annual subscription to Science.

Pembroke College and Part II student, Nike Kwai-Cheung Lau won theundergraduate poster prize with research completed during his Part II experimental project under the supervision of Dr Andras Lakatos at the Centre for Brain Repair. His work focused on the re-expression of thrombospondin-1, in adult grey matter astrocytes and neurons following remote axonal insults.

King’s College PhD student, Janosch Peter Dave Heller (Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair) won the PhD poster prize. The aim of his research is to modulate the binding abilities of retinal pigment epithelial cells to the pathological Bruch's membrane as a transplantational cure of age-related macular degeneration.

Dr Andrea Mariana Santangelo (Department of Experimental Psychology)won the Post Doctoral poster prize. She is interested in understanding how genetic variation can modulate individual differences in behaviour. She is currently working on a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter promoter which regulates the level of gene expression and contributes to anxious behaviour in the marmoset.

From the original historical accounts of different neurodegenerative diseases through to the description of the current ground breaking research, the 23rd Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar provided something for everyone and proved to be the most successful meeting to date. The organisers would like to thank all of their sponsors and exhibitors for supporting this important event.

Meeting Report by Dr Dervila Glynn.
March 2011

Posted on 05/05/2011

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