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Report from a very successful Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar

The 24th Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar was held on 20th March with feedback suggesting it was one of the best seminars to date with over 440 registered delegates in attendance. The daylong symposium, with the theme ’Translational Neuroscience’, took place at the Babbage Lecture theatre and was hosted by the Department of Pharmacology. Professor Jenny Morton, who leads a Huntington’s research lab at the Department of Pharmacology, and Dr Dervila Glynn, Cambridge Neuroscience coordinator, organised an impressive line up of speakers and a celebratory dinner for delegates at Downing College to finish off the day with a bang.

The first plenary lecture of the day was delivered by Dr Alexandra Dürr, a consultant in Neurogenetics at the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière at the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, in Paris. Dr Dürr’s presentation focused on presymptomatic Huntington’s disease (HD) as a model to investigate cognitive decline and neurodegeneration, demonstrating that brain changes can be seen in the disorder around 16 years before clinical onset. Further, Dr Dürr has shown that aspects of deficient energy metabolism and can be alleviated in HD patients by using pharmacological compounds, which promises to be an exciting avenue for future studies.

The mid morning session focused on appetite, obesity and satiety. After a whistle-stop tour of the integral role of 5HT in appetite and an overview of the neat microcircuit in which 5HT regulates food intake by Dr Lora Heisler, Professor Sadaf Farooqi presented the molecular and cellular basis that underpins obesity in humans. Professor Farooqi described findings of fMRI studies showing the relationship between reward and food intake in different types of obesity and underscored the role of the brain in weight control. Professor Nicky Clayton then took us in a different direction showing the amazing ability of jays to plan for future events with data showing the birds preparing for meal times in advance. We were then very honoured to hear the MedImmune Plenary Lecture by Nobel Laureate Dr Linda Buck of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Seattle. Dr Buck outlined the importance of olfaction for species survival and the different molecular set ups for each odour that determines how we detect various smells. Dr Buck’s work has unravelled the neural basis of scent detection, showing that there are two main olfactory pathways and identifying the groups of receptor cells that are vital to mammalian olfaction. After all the talk of food intake and appetite, delegates attended lunch and a poster viewing session.

Head of Pharmacology, Professor Peter McNaughton, kicked off the afternoon with a talk about the three types of pain, acute, neuropathic and inflammatory and included a thought provoking introduction to the history of how we understand the phenomena. Continuing this theme, Professor Geoff Woods, Professor McNaughton’s collaborator in the newly formed CAMPAIN research network, demonstrated the necessity of pain to survival, with some harrowing anecdotes of congenital pain insensitivity. Some of Professor Woods’ work focuses on the role of the gene SCN9A which may underpin why some people are entirely unaffected by pain sensation. Guest Lecturer, Professor Irene Tracey, Director of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, finished this session with a talk showing the insights to be gained from objective assessment of pain using imaging. Professor Tracey’s work is focused on taking the ‘hurt’ out of chronic pain and demonstrates the integral role of central areas in pain perception. The importance of Professor Tracey’s work is highlighted by the fact that pain has the worst drug development record in pharmacology.

The final session was focused on sleep and circadian rhythms and included some astonishing work from Dr Mick Hastings from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Dr Ak Reddy from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. Dr Hastings presented the neural basis of circadian oscillations in mammals, the importance of maintaining robust rhythmicity, and an overview of the genes and proteins that are involved in its regulation. Dr Reddy presented findings from recent work showing the existence of biological clocks in the absence of genomes, and even cells, with remarkable data showing oscillations in three proteins in a dish without a cell present. A perceptive interview between Naked Scientist, Dr Hannah Critchlow and both of these investigators can be heard here.

The final lecture of this session, the Cambridge Science Festival Public Neuroscience Lecture was sponsored by the British Neuroscience Association and was given by Professor Russell Foster from the University of Oxford. Professor Foster told the audience of the discovery of a new photoreceptor in the visual system in addition to rods and cones. Data from mouse studies showed that mice could be visually ‘blind’ but still maintain a circadian rhythmicity in response to light and described an elderly blind person who correctly detected a light source in 20/20 trials despite having neither rods nor cones. Professor Foster’s presentation was not only a lesson in the importance of light in regulating circadian rhythmicity, but also a lesson on how to deliver engaging and memorable public outreach! The public lecture represented a first for Cambridge Neuroscience in that it was the first lecture to be streamed live on the web. The lecture is available to view on both the Cambridge Neuroscience and British Neuroscience Association websites.

An aspect, which remains important to the core of the Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar, 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) agreed on three outstanding group winners. Each winner received a £100 prize and an annual subscription to Science, which was presented by Science editor, Dr Peter Stern. Cambridge student, Ashley Smith won the undergraduate poster prize with research completed under the supervision of Professor Angela Roberts at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. Miss Barbora Doslikova (Department of Pharmacology) won the PhD poster prize and Dr Christoph Teufel (Department of Psychiatry) won the Post Doctoral poster prize.

Cambridge Neuroscience would like to thank all its very generous sponsors especially MedImmune for making this event possible.

Meeting report by Miss Kate McAllister (Department of Psychiatry)

Posted on 02/04/2012

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