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Cambridge Neuroscientists receive inaugural Awards from the Wellcome Trust

Outstanding Cambridge Neuroscientists receive inaugural Wellcome Trust Investigator Award.

The Wellcome Trust recently announced the first recipients of its Investigator Awards, £56 million worth of funding for exceptional researchers addressing the most important questions about health and disease. The researchers will be looking at ambitious and diverse research topics. In total for this round, the Wellcome Trust has appointed 27 Investigators (7 New Investigators and 20 Senior Investigators), including three Cambridge Neuroscientists.

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says: "The Wellcome Trust Investigators, together with our existing Fellowship holders, represent some of the very brightest minds in biomedical science. They are seeking answers to challenging research questions that could potentially transform our understanding of the mechanisms of health and disease".

Dr Mate Lengyel, University of Cambridge, is the recipient of a New Investigator Award in normative neurophysiology is pictured right. He discusses his work with Cambridge Neuroscience:

"Our brain consists of myriads of nerve cells, and it is the concerted action of these cells and their connections that allows us to see, think, remember, and move. At the level of biophysics we understand many of the basic principles that determine  how individual nerve cells work, and at the level of cognition we have striking evidence of adaptive (and sometimes maladaptive) behaviour in many animals including humans - but we still do not know how these two levels are connected.

My aim is to connect these levels based on the observation that many of the cellular-level properties of the brain have adapted through evolution to solve important cognitive tasks efficiently. This allows us to start by asking what would be the optimal way for neural circuits to operate and then understand their various biophysical properties in terms of how these properties contribute to such near-optimal functioning.

My group applies cutting-edge theoretical techniques from computational neuroscience, information theory, signal processing, and machine learning to address these questions. We also collaborate closely with experimental neuroscience groups to test the predictions of our theories and to inform and refine the model construction steps.

I was absolutely delighted when I got the famous phone call from the Wellcome Trust's Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health, John Williams, telling me that my application had been successful. (In fact I think I got so ecstatic by the news that I couldn't express it over the phone other than by saying I was "more than delighted".) For me, it's not just a fantastic opportunity to extend my research programme thanks to generous and flexible funding from the Wellcome Trust, but also a great honour to be within the small elite of British neuroscientists funded by these awards.

The kind of research my group does continues a great Cambridge tradition trying to understand the bits and pieces of the nervous system by first asking what is the function they should serve. As Horace Barlow once famously put it: "A wing would be a most mystifying structure if one did not know that birds flew."

Although these are meant to be personal awards, the research achievementsbehind them are of course always the result of team work, and my case is no exception, so I am really thankful to all the people with whom I have had the chance to work together over the years, including my supervisors, the students and postdocs I have been supervising, and my collaborators. I also got a lot of support from the Cambridge Neuroscience community, in particular from my closest colleague Daniel Wolpert; and I should also mention Zoubin Ghahramani, Carl Rasmussen, and Philip Guildford from Engineering, as well as Bill Harris from PDN, and Simon Laughlin from Zoology who gave tremendously useful feedback
at the last stage when I was preparing for the final interview".


Posted on 29/06/2011

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