Leading Researchers Speak at Neuroscience Symposium

Posted on: 11 November 2013

Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience hosts international symposium on new developments in the field of neuroscience.

Trinity College Dublin welcomed distinguished researchers to speak at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN) 2013 Symposium. Speakers from TCIN and other institutions across the globe discussed state of the art research in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative disease of the eye, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Motor Neuron Disease and Alzheimers Disease.

Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, Elizabeth Gould, began by speaking about the possibilities and applications of neurogenesis (creation of new neurons) in the adult cortex. That it may be modulated due to stress, hormones and experience opened the possibility of it modifying learning and behaviour. The effect of parenting in different species in terms of rewards and costs to brain function was one of the observed differences.

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford University and Director of the Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity, Kia Nobre, spoke about pre-perception in the brain, while Professor Maria Sánchez Vives’ talk on Virtual Reality and perception showed how the brain can be tricked into extending or reducing the boundary of our bodies, which may result in applications to modify human perspectives and behaviour.

The audience was particularly moved by the commitment of two of TCIN’s principal investigators, who are fighting for better outcomes for patients suffering from the debilitating diseases of Motor Neuron Disease and RP. Professor of Genetics at Trinity, Jane Farrar, revealed that genetic susceptibility to RP is spread over 100 genes, which makes a single gene treatment impossible. Realising that a systems-based approach is required to deal with the faulty processes and prevent the degeneration of the retina, her team redesigned protein production systems to generate the correct protein.

In collaboration with colleagues in the US they have developed an experimental treatment which restored sight to a young boy, enabling him to navigate a complex obstacle course with his previously unusable eye. Through start-up company ‘Genable’, they hope to raise investment to develop these techniques into a model gene therapy treatment platform.

Professor of Clinical Medicine at Trinity, Orla Hardiman, also emphasised the enormously detailed work required to uncover the complexity of the genetic components of Motor Neuron Disease. She described how her lab had determined an upper bound on familial heritability and spoke about the recent advance made by Bryan Traynor’s group (2011) in determining the location of familial heritability on Chromosome 9, and of how the occurrence of this genetic effect may explain up to 6% of all ALS cases and be an important factor in several neurodegenerative diseases.

TCIN Director, and Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity, Shane O’Mara, said: “The strong engagement of the audience was a tribute to the quality of the speakers and the importance of the topics. There was a good balance between basic and clinical research applications and in terms of translating basic research approaches into positive outcomes for patients.”

“Many of the talks showed significant real and potential impact on human welfare and disease treatments. These translational impacts included a wide spectrum of effects in diverse areas reflecting the broad range of neuroscience research talks in the symposium and the strong capabilities in Ireland’s neuroscience community.”