Mini Symposium on `Brian Projects: The Frontiers of Neuroscience'#

Paul Matthews
Large-scale population imaging for understanding individual variation

Paul M. Matthews, OBE, MD, DPhil, FRCP, FMedSci, MAE
Professor and Head, Division of Brain Sciences, Department of Medicine Imperial College London

This lecture will review the application of advanced imaging methods in the context of large population studies for understanding the biological bases for individual variations in performance, behaviours and disease risk. Several mature initiatives provide illustrations of this approach and highlight how advances in automated quantitative image analyses can be coupled with traditional epidemiological analyses for open, collaborative science (e.g., the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, the Human Connectome Project, UK Biobank). I will highlight how these developments are creating a new “imaging epidemiology” for which samples are becoming large enough to support meaningful, data driven “discovery” science and its replication. As a neuroscientist, I will focus on the ways in which UK Biobank and related initiatives are catalysing a “step change” in the brain sciences. I also will explore some of the ways in which the nature of the questions that can be asked, the time scale of the observations and the depth of phenotyping demand that major research ethical challenges are re-addressed in more robust and creative ways. I am hopeful that, as the benefits of this approach to science become more clear, and as the ethical issues are addressed by increasingly inclusive groups, a broader social consensus for research may be achieved.

Professor Paul Matthews is the Edmond and Lily Safra Chair of Translational Neuroscience and Therapeutics and Head of the Division of Brain Sciences in the Department of Medicine of Imperial College, London. He was educated in Oxford and at Stanford and McGill. His research programme is directed towards large-scale population imaging and applications of novel medical technologies for personalised medicine. He was founding Director of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and, after leaving Oxford, became a Vice President in Pharmaceuticals for GlaxoSmithKline, where he led a medicines development team leader before returning to academic medicine in Imperial College. He serves in several external clinical research leadership roles including Chair of the Imaging Work Group for the UK Biobank, membership on the Executive of Dementia Platforms UK and UK representative for the Interim Board of Euro-Bioimaging. Matthews is a Fellow by Special Election in St Edmund Hall, Oxford (1997) and was awarded an OBE for services to neuroscience (2008), elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (2014) and to the Academia Europaea (2015). He received an NIHR Senior Investigator Award in 2015.

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Mara Dierssen
REMBRANDT: Remodelling the Brain In Intellectual Disability

Mara Dierssen, MD, PhD, MAE
Head, Cellular and Systems Neurobiology Laboratory, Center for Genomic Regulation

The brain is formed by a myriad of different elements, the neurons that interact dynamically forming a highly connected network. As a result, the brain operates as a non-linear, noisy, highly dimensional system showing an extremely rich dynamical behavior. One of the most challenging questions in neuroscience is how learning and memory, the foundational pillars of cognition, are grounded in stable, yet plastic, states in relevant neurons. Technical limitations however, along with a lack of interdisciplinary integration, have so far hampered the comprehensive elucidation of perturbations underlying dysfunction of cognition-relevant neurons. Children with intellectual disability (ID) and their corresponding genetic mouse models, exhibit a significant deviation of neurobiological mechanisms governing normal brain function and leading to cognitive impairments. Despite the heterogeneity of genetic and environmental aetiologies underlying both syndromic and non-syndromic forms of ID, they are often characterized by overlapping impairments. The disruption of neural plasticity is a common pathognomonic feature related to cognitive impairment across IDs, likely due to deregulation of synaptic protein synthesis and dendritic spine signalosome, thus opening the possibility to discover drugs for restoring cognitive function not restricted to a specific disorder. These discoveries pave the way for a change in paradigm in psychopharmachology.

Professor Mara Dierssen is the director of Cellular and Systems Neurobiology laboratory in the Systems Biology Program, at the Center for Genomic regulation in Barcelona. She is a world expert in the field of intellectual and has received several recognitions for her work (Ramón Trias Fargas, Jaime Blanco or Sisley – Lejeune Awards). Her current work is devoted to decipher brain mechanisms sub serving learning and memory, and how they are altered in cognitive pathology. She aims at understanding how the neuronal architecture and connectivity constrain the flow and storage of information in neuronal circuits in human cognitive-related disorders. She is MD, PhD and served as professor at the University of Cantabria where she initiated her work in the behavioral and molecular analysis of the alterations in learning and memory involved in intellectual disability. Dierssen held a researcher position at the Medical and Molecular Genetics Center-Institut de Recerca Oncológica (IRO) in Barcelona, where she started a Neurobiology and Behavior Research Group. From 2001, she is Group Leader at the Center for Genomic Regulation and holds a professorship in the Ramón Llull University of Barcelona. Dierssen serves in several scientific leadership roles including different scientific advisory boards, editorial positions in high impact scientific journals, She was President of the International Behavioral and Neural genetics Society, and of the Spanish Neuroscience Society, and founding member and Secretary General of the Trisomy 21 Research Society. Dierssen is member of the European DANA Allianze for the Brain, and was elected as a Member of the Academia Europea in 2014.

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Henrik Ehrsson_Henrik
Cognitive neuroscience of body self perception

H. Henrik Ehrsson
Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Ask any child if his hands belong to him and the answer will be “Of course!” But how does the brain actually identify its own body? Henrik Ehrsson will describe how cognitive neuroscientists have recently begun to address this fundamental question. A key idea is that parts of the body are distinguished from the external world by the patterns they produce of correlated information from different sensory modalities (vision, touch and muscle sense). These correlations are hypothesized to be detected by neuronal populations that integrate multisensory information from the space near the body. Dr. Ehrsson and his team have recently used a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging and human behavioral experiments to present experimental evidence in support of these predictions. To change the feeling of body ownership, perceptual illusions were used where healthy individuals experienced that a rubber hand was their own, that a mannequin was their body (“body-swap illusion”), or, that they are outside their physical body and looking at it from the perspective of another individual (“out-of-body illusion”). By clarifying how the normal brain produces a sense of ownership of one’s body, we can learn to project ownership onto artificial bodies and simulated virtual ones; and even make two people have the experience of swapping bodies with one another. This could have ground-breaking applications in the fields of virtual reality and neuro-prosthetics. In his talk Henrik Ehrsson will describe how cognitive neuroscientists have begun to address the fundamental question of how we come to experience that we own our body

Henrik Ehrsson is a cognitive neuroscientist interested in the problem of how we come to sense that we own our body. He considers the identification of multisensory mechanisms by which the central nervous system distinguishes between sensory signals from one's body and those from the environment as the key to solving this problem. By clarifying how the normal brain produces a sense of ownership of one’s body, he believes that we can learn to project ownership onto artificial bodies and simulated virtual ones. This research could even enable two people to have the experience of swapping bodies with one another. The multisensory model of body ownership that continues to be developed by Henrik Ehrsson is already being used in the field of neuro-prosthetics and by the virtual reality research community, thereby establishing opportunities for important clinical and industrial applications.

Born in Sweden 1972, he studied medicine and obtained his PhD from Karolinska Institutet. After a four year postdoc at University College London, he became an assistant professor at Karolinska Institutet in 2008 and was appointed full professor in 2013.

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