Latest Event Updates
After decades of being classified as of no medical use, psychedelic drugs like LSD, MDMA and psilocybin are beginning to gain ground in medical research. Preliminary results are indicating it may have the potential to treat various mental illnesses, such as depression, PTSD and even addiction. However, as scientists begin to tackle the workings of these incredible compounds, for some, the most important battle will be to overcome the stigma they have garnered from years of being a banned substance, leaving its impure, harmful and unregulated forms to dictate public perception.
With this goal in mind, CamBRAIN decided to tackle the taboo and so the idea for our biggest event this term was born. Three panellists were invited to draw on their individual areas of expertise: Professor Paul Fletcher from the university’s psychiatry department; Amanda Fielding founder and director of a leading funding body for psychedelic research, the Beckley foundation; and Leor Roseman, a budding PhD student in the field from Imperial College London. Chaired by Professor Ed Bullmore, Head of the Department of Psychiatry, it was set up to provide an informed discussion on the value of these drugs to science and medicine and the challenges that lie ahead.
After the crowd of over 200 people settled into their seats in the main lecture theatre of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, Ed started the evening’s proceedings by introducing the three panellists. Then, Professor Paul Fletcher took the stage as the first speaker for the evening. He drew from his work on ketamine to explain how mind-altering substances can be an incredibly useful tool for modelling psychiatric disorders, in this case psychosis. Early into his discussion, he used captivating visual and auditory aids to demonstrate two forms of hallucinations. Then, he explained that models are indispensable tools for research but asserts that models are just that- a model. He pointed out that you wouldn’t look through the windows of an aeroplane model and complain that you couldn’t see a pilot or a drinks trolley. Paul concludes his point by stating that a model should only be judged based on the purpose it serves, which in the case of early stage psychosis, ketamine does very well.
Next up, was Amanda Fielding. Amanda started the Beckley Foundation in 1998 and has since played a pivotal role in the revival of psychedelic research in the past decade. Long before that, however, she has spent decades trying to convince governments and the public to take seriously the medical and psychological benefits of psychedelic drugs. Through her foundation, her voice is finally being heard. The work done by the Beckley foundation was the main focus of her talk for the evening. She highlighted key findings from their recent collaborations, most notably with Professor David Nutt and Dr Robin Carhart Harris, who pioneered the world’s first imaging study of the brain on LSD. This served as a perfect introduction for the next speaker, who hails from that lab and was part of that monumental study.
Leor Roseman did his BSc in Neuroscience in Tel Aviv University. He then started his MRes at Imperial College London where he worked under the supervision of Prof. Nutt and Dr. Carhart-Harris. He is now a PhD candidate of the Beckley-Imperial Research Program. Leor talked about the recently completed pilot study investigating the therapeutic effectiveness of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. He then presented fMRI data recorded before and after psilocybin-assisted therapy showing enhanced amygdala activity in response to emotional faces after therapy. Moreover, Leor compared those results to the blunted amygdala response following traditional antidepressants. He suggested that psychedelic-assisted therapy could be a treatment avenue that preserves, and even enhances emotional receptiveness.
After the speakers’ sessions, the floor was opened to Q&A. This discussion was chaired by Professor Ed Bullmore. The session went on for over forty-five minutes. The audience challenged the speakers by raising the problem of placebo effects in psychedelic research. The speakers openly discussed this issue and went on to answer questions about the overlap in research between meditation and psychedelics. Lastly, the speakers explained the future hurdles facing psychedelic research. This psychedelic conversation tackled the taboo; it cleared the myths and answered some key questions surrounding psychedelics research. It reminded us CamBrainiacs that we must keep an open mind, discuss our ideas and have the courage to tackle taboos.
By: Muhammad Kaiser & Aicha Massrali
The CamBRAIN festive Neuro-Art Competition took place in the hidden gem of Selwyn college – The Diamond room. Just 5 minute-walk away from King’s, it is perfectly distant from the hustle and bustle of the main street. The competition attracted almost 30 performing and visual artists from all over Cambridge and beyond.
Brain science offers a multitude of questions to ponder on and explore through painting, as does the Visual Artist Judge Valeriya N-Georg (http://www.valeriya-n-georg.com). Coming from a fine arts background, Valeriya insightfully integrates medical and scientific concepts in her works through collaborations with professionals working in these fields, as seen in “Grey Matter”, “Astrocyte”, and “Gardens of the Unconscious” among other pieces. The work she decided to share with CamBRAIN was “Deepest Imprints: Perfect Harmony” based on prenatal brain development research by Kitty Hagenbach. Valeriya helped us assess creativity and deeper meanings of the artwork.
To the contrary, Steve Cross, the Performing Artist Judge, has a solid background in science and a PhD degree. Rather than following a typical career path, he has decided to combine his interest in stand-up comedy with science to create Science Showoff (http://www.scienceshowoff.org). He thinks that scientists have a few hidden fun sides to share, and Science Showoff is an inspirational project which aims to both bring a comic relief in a professional work field and engage with lay public. Additionally, it offers an alternative to the status quo of an academic career progression as it demonstrates that there is no limit to what you can do with your degree. Steve was critical of the novelty of concepts and presentation skills.
Lastly, your humble servant (Nataly Martynyuk) had the pleasure to be the Science Judge. Long time before I realised that my hand dexterity longs for a dissection scalpel and forceps, I attended art classes and was foretold a career as a painter. I have no regrets about not pursuing it, even though I continue scribbling in my rare spare time of a PhD candidate. I have done scientific illustrations for research groups in Cambridge and London, as well as completed several murals in a psychiatric ward of Mile End hospital as a part of a volunteering clinical project. The work I presented for CamBRAIN was inspired by my microscopy experience, which reveals “A Universe For My Eyes Only”. My job was to evaluate the relevance of the media to the depicted ideas and ensure scientific accuracy.
The number of astonishing art pieces we were presented with made it extremely difficult to choose winners. The variety of media did not make it any easier, and a few pieces were leading only by a whisker.
The first prize was deservedly taken by David Jane’s (http://david-jane.info) “Self-Portraits”, which have playfully explored MRI scans as a series of prints. While Artist Judges were mesmerised by how David has transformed something as trivial as a piece of scan into creative images and collaged them to make them look nothing like the original, I appreciated the idea of thinking of ‘self’ on the portraits in a neurological way.
The second prize went to Dana Galili and her comedy sketch. She was fun, witty, and truly made the evening brighter. Besides, her stories about fly mating behaviour were somewhat educational, as she pointed out that “there is a lot we can learn from the flies”.
The audience agreed to disagree with the judges and awarded “Bipolar Flight” by Hannah Belcher with the popularity prize.
Heleen, Jessica, Jon and the rest of the CamBRAIN committee have ensured the smooth and timely event organisation with the only regret that Veselina could not join us on the day.
Regardless of who got the prizes, everyone who attended has certainly won.
BNA’s “Bright Brains” is looking for writers/reviewers!
“Bright Brains” is a newsletter that is created and edited by BNA students, postdocs and early career researchers from all over the UK. It appears three times a year in the BNA bulletin and everyone is welcome to contribute as writer or reviewer.
Individuals interested in writing/reviewing please contact David Howett (firstname.lastname@example.org), and check out previous issues here for the type of content.
Voting for the position of the second Social Secretary of CamBRAIN will open at 12pm on Thursday 20th of October!
Below are the two candidates and their short manifestos:
Hello, my name is Christof and I would love to be your social secretary. Why?:
S: tudying for my PhD in Clinical Neuroscience
O: bviously the one for the job
C: ommitted to forging interdisciplinary relationships throughout Cambridge University and the UK
I: ncidently is passionate about neuroscience and neuroscience themed events
A: ctive in the community
L: oves to connect with others and help others connect through varied events
So if you agree, please, vote me for me, vote for Christof.
In my life as an MD/PhD psychiatrist, I aspire to bridge the basic neuroscience and clinical psychiatry communities, foster collaboration, communication, and training opportunities, fight stigma, and raise awareness about mental illness. These efforts will require all possible resources, and strengthening our young neuroscience community will be key. As social secretary, I will advance the commendable enterprise of our important society. I will strive for improved unity of all segments of the neuroscience community in Cambridge so as not to succumb to the geographic and departmental barriers that can hinder efforts towards our common goal: decoding the brain to alleviate human suffering. Oh, and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m extremely social.
We would like to thank all of you who attended our Welcome Reception last Wednesday. We were delighted to meet all of you and to share our experiences and ideas for the future of CamBRAIN. It is very inspiring for us to see how motivated and interested you all are in our society and in neuroscience in general!
We considered the event to be a huge success and we hope that this is only the start of very productive year ahead! Here are some pictures from the event. You can also find them on our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CamBrainCNS/).
Please feel free to tag yourselves!
The winner of the first BlueSci-CamBRAIN Neurojournalism Competition is a past member of the CamBRAIN committee and current Student Trustee! Congratulations to Liam Wilson for his excellent winning article on the myth of the different learning styles.
Grab the latest copy of BlueSci to read it!
Voting will open midday Thursday 9 June midday and close midnight Sunday 12 June.
Here are the candidates for round 2 of our committee elections:
My name is Antonina and I’m a 1st year PhD student in Clinical Neurosciences. I am currently co-organizer of the BRC After Hours Club for 1st year PhD students and I am very keen to join the CamBrain society and actively contribute! To me, a big part of the role of Communications Coordinator is to “sell” the society to new members and make them want to get – and stay involved. Cambridge has a vibrant neuroscience community, combining several exciting disciplines, however, often in the academic environment there is lack of communication between like-minded people. My aim will be to bridge that gap and get people excited about neuroscience, spark meaningful debates and spread the word!
INTEREST GROUPS COORDINATOR
My name is Kaiser Karim and I am a first year PhD student in Dr Mark Kotter’s group from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. I am also a member of Downing College. My research is on modelling white matter diseases using human oligodendrocytes derived through forward programming.
I wish to be your next Interest groups coordinator mainly because I want to ensure CamBrain will continue to host great and exciting events for everyone. As an Interests group coordinator, I will have a direct role in making sure of this. As an undergraduate back in Malaysia, I was a committee member for a society that did various types of volunteer work. My main role was to micromanage the three volunteer groups that made up the society. Briefly after my degree, I was also the marketing manager for a start-up in Malaysia, which also gave me experience in management. Therefore, with my passion for the society and past experience, I believe I am the right candidate for this position.