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Insight blog: Posts tagged with neuroscience

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

Macaque research and the MRC

29 Jan 2014

Macaques are non-human primates. They are used in medical research because many of their body systems — such as their immune and nervous systems — are similar to humans, making them good research ‘models’ for a variety of human conditions.

The UK has some of the most stringent regulations in the world on the use of animals in research. Researchers wishing to use these animals in their work must show that the research is possible in no other way, comply with stringent regulations and be granted a specific licence from the Home Office.

The Medical Research Council’s Centre for Macaques breeds rhesus macaques for use in medical research in academic institutions in the UK. Using macaques from the centre means that researchers and those who fund or regulate research can be sure the animals were bred in conditions that met high welfare standards.

In these films we look at why macaques are used in medical research, including an example of a neuroscientist who uses macaques to study how brain signals control movement, with the aim of helping paralysed people control external devices such as robotic arms or wheelchairs with their thoughts. We also look at how the animals are housed in the MRC Centre for Macaques, how their behavioural needs are met and efforts to make the transition from the centre to the research lab as stress free as possible. You can find out more about the use of animals in the MRC on our website.

[Video link for access] [...]

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Above board: musings on being an MRC board member

31 Oct 2013

Kim Graham

Kim Graham (Image copyright: Kim Graham)

What’s it like to hold the purse strings for science funding? Professor Kim Graham, a member of the MRC Neuroscience and Mental Health Board (NMHB) and researcher at Cardiff University, gives us an insight into what being an MRC board member involves, from the seemingly endless reviewing of grants to the biscuit-laden meetings.

After four years, I’ll be finishing my stint on the NMHB board in March 2014. I’m looking forward to vacating the hot seat for someone else, but also sad to be saying goodbye to the wonderful colleagues that have made the past few years so enjoyable.

Reflecting on these experiences I realised how little information is available about this mysterious process to which UK researchers submit their scientific works of art.  [...]

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Brain cell culture goes 3D

28 Aug 2013

A cross-section of a cerebral organoid (Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)

A cross-section of a cerebral organoid (Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)

Some brain diseases, such as microcephaly, can’t be studied in animals. Now researchers have developed a technique to grow early-stage brain tissue in the lab, opening up possibilities from studying diseases to testing drugs. MRC Senior Press Officer Hannah Isom reports.

As a science press officer, I’m in the privileged position of getting my mitts on some of the most exciting research papers before they are seen by the world’s media, and even by other scientists in the field. Sometimes I worry I’m so awash with impressive discoveries that I’ll become complacent. And then every once in a while a paper lands in my inbox that is so exciting — even to a non-scientist like me — that I know I don’t need to be concerned.

This week in Nature scientists led by the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Austria, in collaboration with the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, have revealed that they have used stem cells to grow a three-dimensional structure in the lab that resembles primitive human brain tissue. [...]

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When brain connections fail in Parkinson’s disease

15 Apr 2013

A diffusion MRI scan of Charlotte’s own brain, showing three cross-sections. The colour-coding indicates the direction of the brain connections: blue connections travel between the top and bottom of the brain; green connections travel between the back and front; and red connections travel side-to-side.

A diffusion MRI scan of Charlotte’s own brain, showing three cross-sections. The colour-coding indicates the direction of the brain connections: blue connections travel between the top and bottom of the brain; green connections travel between the back and front; and red connections travel side-to-side. (Image copyright: Charlotte Rae)

The brain is one big network of chattering neurons, so what happens when, as in Parkinson’s disease, a part of that network breaks down? Charlotte Rae, a graduate student at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge marks Parkinson’s Awareness Week by explaining her research, which looks at how brain connections fail in this debilitating disease.

When Helen wakes up each morning, she takes four different pills, and will take them again every three hours until she goes to bed. If she forgets, she finds it difficult to walk, notices her left arm shaking uncontrollably, and can’t speak properly. Helen has Parkinson’s disease, and to stave off these symptoms she will need to take her cocktail of medicines every three hours, every day, for the rest of her life.

Parkinson’s affects one in every 500 people, and is currently incurable. Unfortunately, while the physical symptoms are strikingly obvious, the causes of the disease are less clear. [...]

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Eliza and the Great Spaghetti Monster

22 Nov 2012

Rodrigo Braga

Rodrigo Braga

In his shortlisted article for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, Rodrigo Braga, a PhD student at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, describes efforts to make an atlas of the developing brain. 

The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. With it we have built entire civilisations and harnessed the power of nature. Yet despite their amazing complexity, all brains begin life as a tiny bundle of cells that divide, migrate and miraculously wire themselves up into the thinking machines that make us who we are. The fact that it happens at all is almost as astounding as the finished product itself, but it doesn’t always work out as Mother Nature intended.

Tucked up in her crib at the Neonatal Imaging Centre of Hammersmith Hospital, newborn baby Eliza is sleeping through another magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Around her head, the scanner machinery wails and screams with high-pitched ululations, but she sleeps peacefully, ears protected by tiny muffs. [...]

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When worlds collide

4 Oct 2012

The slide boxes containing slices of rat brain tissue that inspired Aga (Copyright: Nervous Encounter)

The slide boxes containing slices of rat brain tissue that inspired Aga (Copyright: Nervous Encounter)

Artists from the new interdisciplinary MA Art and Science programme at Central Saint Martins have been working with researchers at the MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit at the University of Oxford to produce an exhibition called A Nervous Encounter. Here artist Aga Tamiola tells us what she got out of the project, and shows us the artwork she produced.

Prior to visiting the MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit, I had never been to a biomedical research lab before. Excitement and curiosity come to mind when I recall my response to that very first visit in November 2011.

We visited a lab which focuses on research into the basal ganglia, a region deep in the brain involved in the initiation and control of movement.

I became fascinated with the slide boxes that were kept all over the lab. I wanted to find out what was inside them, and about the people who created them. The scientists were extremely generous with their time, showing me that the boxes contain glass slides on which thin slices of rat brain tissue are preserved. By looking at the slides under the microscope, the researchers can learn about the nerve cells (neurons) that make up the tissue. [...]

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