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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Neuroscience at Southampton. Boosting research by working together

Published: 16 July 2014

Neuroscience at the University of Southampton clearly benefits from the interdisciplinary ethos within the university. This is evident from the strength and breadth of neuroscience research happening at Southampton.

Researchers from several disciplines are aiming to understand the fundamental causes of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, the commonest form of dementia, and are moving closer towards finding effective treatments.

“While biologists and medical researchers have always collaborated, we are now talking to fellow academics in radically different subjects such as maths and computer science who are experienced in sophisticated modelling,” says Dr Roxana Carare from the Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS). “For example, detecting patterns in the angles that blood vessels branch in the brain and noting differences in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s can bring invaluable new perspectives to aid our research.” This is one example out of many, where structures of the human brain (such as nerve cells, communication between cells, communication between the brain and the immune system) are being modelled and studied with different tools.

The need to find cures for neurological disorders is more acute than ever. 850,000 people in the UK now suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and its societal cost is estimated to be around £32billion in this country alone. There is no cure or effective treatment. However, policymakers are now taking action and Prime Minister David Cameron has committed the UK Government to double its spending on research to an estimated £66 million in 2014/15. The University of Southampton is at the forefront of ‘bench to bedside’ research in dementia from experimental laboratory work on campus to clinical work in city hospitals; researchers’ achievements have already been recognised by the leading charity Alzheimer’s Research UK which has named the University as the South Coast Network Centre , recognizing the world class leading research led in Southampton. The Alzheimer’s Society also funds applied neuroscience research at the University

The Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS) forms one of the cornerstones in the University’s strategy to facilitate interdisciplinary research. Launched in 2011, the IfLS brings together more than 250 research members from a wide range of disciplines focusing on areas as diverse as human development, cancer, immunological solutions to environmental microbiology and computational science and engineering.

A key theme of the IfLS is neuroscience due primarily to the strength of expertise at Southampton and the interdisciplinary approach taken by the University’s researchers in this field. These researchers are having a significant impact on a global scale. In 2001, the Southampton Neuroscience Group (SoNG) was launched and gave researchers a forum for anyone interested in studying the brain and neural function in health and disease, working closely with the British Neuroscience Association. In particular, SoNG supports and encourages the personal development, progression and training of early career researchers. Many of its key people are also active IfLS members.

Neuroscientists at Southampton come together to share their research and network at key events at the University. Two of these will be held in September 2014, the first hosted by IfLS covering the latest research on dementia (16 September) and the second, hosted by SoNG, focusing on the human brain (25 September). Both will feature high profile lectures from leading scientists and discussion on cutting-edge issues, as well as networking opportunities for delegates. “These events give us time to reflect on what we have achieved so far and plan to do in the future, while the external speakers give us new insight into subjects outside our core expertise,” explains event organiser Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola from SoNG. “Everyone is busy in their own laboratories working on their own research for most of the time so it is important we come together and talk things over at least once a year.”

Research into dementias has many strands at the University and provides many projects for undergraduate and postgraduate students eager to increase our understanding of neurological disorders. Supervised by experienced academic staff, the students investigate a particular aspect of biological systems; results from each piece of work builds scientific knowledge of the fundamental causes of these devastating diseases. Many of the University’s academic staff are among the most respected life scientists in the world and take their research to new heights through major international collaborations funded by national and international funding councils and charities. Yet, interdisciplinary collaboration may hold the key to real breakthroughs. “Learning from University specialists in completely different fields can help us defeat some of the most challenging problems in the life sciences,” explains Roxana. “We are fortunate to be able to draw on the experience of many world class researchers on campus with us in Southampton. Who knows what we may achieve in the future.”

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