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Video Gaming and the Human Brain

by YPU admin on January 21, 2016, Comments. Tags: Life Sciences, Neuroscience, Research, UoM, and Video Games

Introduction

My name is Catalina Cimpoeru and I have recently graduated from The University of Manchester with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. My degree captivated me from the beginning, taking me from interesting facts about the human brain to how we use our senses (vision, hearing, touch) and the way medicines interact with our bodies to alleviate the pain.  During my third and final year of study we all had to carry out a project in order to complete our degrees. I based my project on something that I think is very popular at the moment, which is gaming, and what effect this has on people. More specifically, I was looking at the impact video games had on people’s motor and visual skills, which is basically the effect on our eyes and movement. I have also reviewed what role technology and games have in rehabilitation treatments regarding movement problems.


In depth

How did I decide on what to study?

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to study Science in University, but there were a lot of courses involving science so I had to narrow it down to the things I enjoyed studying the most. I decided then that I wanted to study something biology related, which is part of the Faculty of Life Sciences. This helped me look at the different courses that different universities have to offer in this area. I chose a biological area specialising in the brain as I wanted something more specific to focus on.

Why precisely the brain?

The brain is the most complex and outstanding organ in the human body, weighting only 1.5 kg and having more than 86 billion neurons that connect and work with our body to produce all our emotions, the languages we speak, the tasks we carry out daily and so much more. The work that the students and, more importantly, that the researchers carry out is aimed at discovering how the human brain works. By discovering this, we find out what each of the parts of the brain are involved in, what causes different illnesses, to ultimately find a cure for them. The work researchers and their students conduct is very important in order to improve and prolong human life.


Why video games?

 Around seven in ten British households are active video games players, from playing games on their smartphones to computer games and PlayStation or Nintendo Wii. Does it have an impact on people that play very often? Yes. This is what my research has looked at and what I have written in my Literature Review, which is a piece of writing you submit prior to your big final year project write-up. Research showed that active video gamers have improved dexterity, finesse and speed of their hand movements. Data was recorded using Microsoft Kinect, a technological tool that records and traces your eye and hand movements whilst playing games. This tool was initially released in 2010 as a controller for Xbox 360, so for gaming purposes. Soon enough, its powerful tracing sensors were discovered and it was introduced in science and research clinical trials. It is now used in different areas of research such as computer graphics, human-machine interaction, eye-hand coordination and rehabilitation programs for motor diseases-Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy. I soon found out researchers demonstrated that using exergames (a type of video games focusing on exercising) improved the patients’ hand movements and reduced shakiness. Microsoft Kinect was also used to produce different educational games for children with autism, dyslexia, ADHD in order to enhance eye-hand coordination, focal attention and short-term memory.In my degree, especially in my final year of study, I was able to choose my own topic for my project, which combined two very important topics to me: science and technology. As we are all aware of this, technology is a big part of people’s lives, both socially and academically. Technology is fast making advances in science, with continuous advances in prosthetics 3D printing and developing a needle-free kit for diabetics by using patches instead.

What about the future?

After graduation, I have been working as an intern at the University of Manchester. During my university degree I have been a very active student ambassador, which already allowed me to have a taste of the work field. I am not working in Science or in my domain at the moment (which is fine if you aren’t!) but I plan to return to health/technology in the future.  I still find it tremendously interesting and I always keep updated with the new technologies used in medicine and neuroscience. I have ‘’challenged the known and embraced the unknown’’; I wanted to try something different - which is great because my degree equipped me with a wide set of transferable skills that allows me to work in different areas!

Going further

For more information about the Life Sciences courses that The University of Manchester offers, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/

For information about the research we carry out at the University of Manchester, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/research/

For more information about different careers path you can follow after graduating from a Life Sciences degree, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/careeropportunities/

For interesting facts about the brain, visit: http://www.oddee.com/item_98246.aspx

For neuroscience news, you can visit: http://neurosciencenews.com/ or http://www.bbc.com/future/tags/neuroscience

To find out more news about science, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science

To find more news about technology you can follow: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology

For medical technology news, follow: http://www.medgadget.com/


 

What makes our bodyclock tick

Introduction

My name is Adam and I am a first-year Neuroscience PhD student, studying how our bodies measure the passage of time. In fact, nearly every cell in our body contains a clock. However, it is the brain that keeps our cells in sync with the environment. Think of the body like an orchestra; each musician (cell) has the ability to create music (measure time), however without the conductor (brain), the musicians will play out of time with each other.  

An important feature of our natural environment is the 24-hour changes in solar conditions, which we can divide into day and night. The brain receives natural light information through the eyes that tells it how much light is available at different times of the day. Then, it adjusts its internal clock to the correct time of day and coordinates the rest of the body. The resulting ‘circadian’ rhythms in our behaviour and physiology, for example sleep/wake and body temperature patterns, last approximately (circa) a day (dian). Without a circadian system, we would be unable to partition our phasic biology to the day and night.

In-depth

In 1972, scientists found the location of the ‘master’ circadian clock in an area of the hypothalamus, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Many SCN cells contain a network of genes, including the Period and Cryptochrome, that function like the cogs of a wristwatch; the time between switching them on and off is equal to around 24 hours. This genetic rhythm is detected in many different organs and tissues however in the SCN it is self-sustained and reset by light. We can detect these genes to identify other brain areas that may function as a self-sustained clock. As a result, our understanding of the circadian system has progressed towards a multi-clock model in which different brain regions combine circadian timekeeping with different physiological processes. One such region is the mediobasal nucleus of the hypothalamus (MBH) which has an established role in the regulation of metabolism (energy intake and expenditure).

One issue with modern life is that our daily schedules no longer correlate with sunrise and sunset, but with our working hours/social hours. Recent evidence suggests that this misalignment increases the risk of a range of diseases from obesity and diabetes to depression and dementia. The MBH, being both a clock and a metabolic controller, may play a role in this relationship between circadian disruption and metabolic disease.

My project aims to develop an understanding of how the clockwork in the MBH influences how it controls metabolism under normal conditions and with different diets. A detailed understanding of this interaction may help us develop clock-targeted treatments for metabolic diseases. 

4 tips for a healthy circadian system-

·  Expose yourself to as much natural light as possible

·  Make your bedroom dark – seal up the windows and avoid light at all costs!

·  Avoid artificial light before bedtime – that means no phones, laptops, tablets folks.

·  Sleep/wake at regular times – While a lie in at the weekend is good for catching up on ‘sleep-debt’ accumulated during the week, try not to overdo it. 

Going further

The website for the faculty of life sciences at the University of Manchester - http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/

At the University of Manchester we have the largest group of chronobiologists in Europe! Information about this research can be found here- http://www.manchester.ac.uk/collaborate/expertise/neuroscience/biological-clocks/

How the circadian clock affects sleep – The sleep foundation http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-drive-and-your-body-clock


 

From researcher to writer...

by YPU Admin on April 4, 2014, Comments. Tags: Neuroscience, PhD, and Research

As part of our Thinking Careers section, we explore the non-academic career options taken by those who have completed their PhDs. This week, Natasha Thomas talks about moving from a job in the laboratory to a career in medical communications.

Introduction

My name is Natasha Thomas and I’m a Senior Medical Writer. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and was interested in pursuing a career in science when I completed my A-levels (although I had no idea what job I wanted to do at the time!). I studied Neuroscience at The University of Sheffield, and went on to complete a PhD in cardiovascular science at The University of Manchester. I was lucky enough to be offered a post-doctoral research job in the urology lab at Bond University in Australia, and stayed there for 18 months. Towards the end of my post doc I realised that I didn’t want to stay in research for the long term, and I started to look at careers in medical communications. When I moved back to the UK I started as an Associate (or trainee) Medical Writer, and progressed to a Medical Writer, and then to my current position as Senior Medical Writer.


Current job

I currently work for Fishawack Indicia Ltd, which is a medical communications agency (www.fishawack.com). The people that we work for are usually pharmaceutical companies. Medical writers get involved wherever there is new information available about a particular drug that doctors and researchers need to know about. The communication of new information about drugs is important, as it can help doctors to decide on the best way to treat a patient, and can lead to new ideas or developments for future medical research. No two days are the same, and there is a lot of variety on a day-to-day basis. I write up trials of drugs for publication in scientific journals, work on materials for presentation at conferences, and have meetings with doctors and researchers to talk about future publications. One of the reasons I enjoy my job is that I have the opportunity to learn about lots of different diseases and treatments; I’ve worked on drugs for asthma, HIV and Alzheimer’s disease, to name just a few. Some of the drugs I write about are still in development and are being tested as treatments. It’s exciting to think that one day these drugs might be available to treat and help people.

There is often the opportunity to travel as a medical writer, as speakers at conferences may need help checking their slides before their presentation, and writers often report back on what presentations were most interesting for people. I enjoy going to conferences and meeting new people, though the hours can often be long when you’re away on site.

Experience

Any kind of communication experience is good experience for being a medical writer. While I was a PhD student I wrote an article for the university newsletter, and a course I attended asked for people to write up a short review so I jumped at the chance. Creating presentations and posters for conferences, and finding different ways of explaining your work so that other people can understand are all good skills that can be used by a medical writer. This sort of practice is also useful for applying for jobs in medical communications. Most agencies ask you to complete a short writing test as part of the application process but this isn’t designed to be scary or to catch you out, it’s there so that you can show off your potential!

Going Further

When I was looking for jobs in medical communications one of the most useful websites I found was MedCommsNetworking. The website advertises jobs, but also provides details on careers days, workshops and courses, and has links to lots of other useful websites.  There is also a link to ‘A Day in the Life of MedComms’, which is where on a particular day, people in the medical communications industry send in articles or photos about what they’re up to. This provides a good insight in to what people in the industry really do on a day-to-day basis, and makes for interesting reading!

 

Exploring the biological clock

by YPU Admin on December 16, 2013, Comments. Tags: biology, Neuroscience, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Joe and I am a final year PhD student at the University of Manchester where I study Neuroscience. Having finished my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and History, I applied to study Zoology in Manchester.  Once accepted, I deferred the start of my degree for a year to fulfil a childhood dream to travel the length of South America while attempting to learn Spanish along the way - albeit pretty badly.

Having survived my travels, I finished my undergraduate course with a first class degree and decided to carry on my studies at Manchester through a research masters in Integrative Biology. It was during this time that I ended up on a laboratory-based project with my current supervisor and I became interested in the field of biological rhythms and their role in neurological disorders. Almost four years on, I am still focused on trying to understand how changes to your body’s biological clock within your brain can contribute to the unusual behaviour seen in bipolar disorder.






In Depth

As you have continued reading, I imagine you may be wondering what are biological clocks and what do they have to do with bipolar disorder?  As we live on a planet that rotates over a 24-hour cycle, all organisms are subjected to daily changes in light, temperature and many other factors important to life. Almost every species on earth has responded to these environmental changes with the slow evolution of biological clocks that allow us to anticipate these daily cycles. These clocks are made up of genes and proteins that strictly control the timing of cellular and body processes.


In humans and mammals, these biological clocks now exist in a deep part of our brains as two dense clusters of brain cells known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei. These tiny but intricate structures strictly control the timing of almost everything in our bodies, from when we wake up to when our hormones are released. They also they let our cells know when they need to do specific jobs at different times of the day. When these biological clocks go wrong, there is a growing amount of evidence that has shown you are much more likely to become ill.

Illnesses that have been linked to faulty body clocks are quite varied but include neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People with these diseases very often have highly disturbed sleep-wake rhythms, often sleeping much less, or waking up a lot during the night and we think that faulty body clocks might be to blame.

My work focuses on trying to understand how molecular and electrical activity changes in the suprachiasmatic nuclei during bipolar disorder and whether any such changes in biological rhythms may contribute to disruptions in our daily behaviour. As many drugs that can change our body clocks are being rapidly discovered, we hope that this type of work will pave the way for the use of new medicines that improve body rhythms to help treat people with bipolar disorder and other similar neurological problems.

Going Further

Find out what’s going on in Manchester’s vibrant Neuroscience department here.

The University of Manchester’s Neuroscience course page, where you can find out about what you can study and what you need to do if you are interested.

Find out what type of body clock you have here and compare yourself to others around the world via this global questionnaire, set up by the world’s most prominent biological rhythm researchers:

The Guardian’s two Neuroscience blogs, with some nice articles on the most recent advances and stories in the field - click here and here.

Take a look at the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) for up-to-date news and information from the UK’s biggest Neuroscience organisation.

Only for the most intrepid minds out there! A link to the most prominent neuroscience journal out there including a weekly open-access article (you need to pay to read these normally). Don’t be put off by the crazy language as you will only really understand this after years of study, but you can get an idea of what real neuroscience looks like here.

 

Museum on the brain?

by YPU Admin on September 2, 2013, Comments. Tags: and study, careers, Life Sciences, Neuroscience, pathways, and Research

The new Thinking Careers section will explore non-academic career options pursued by PhD students. The first case study will be on Emily Robinson, who completed an undergraduate degree and a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Manchester. Emily now works as a Secondary and Post-16 Co-ordinator for the Sciences at the Manchester Museum.


Introduction 


When I was in sixth form, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I liked both biology and geography, but wasn't sure if I wanted to spend years of my life studying either. Then one day, in a very small section of books termed 'Careers Library' in the corner of our study room, I found a book about Neuroscience – the study of the brain and the nervous system. With every page I turned, I realised that I had found what I wanted to study. My mum was shocked that evening when I announced over my spaghetti bolognese, “I'm applying for Neuroscience”. Her first reaction was to ask, “What is Neuroscience?” But as she heard me enthuse about this intriguing subject and how interesting studying the brain would be, she realised that she was going to have to trust me.


Current job

Flash forward ten years and I am now working at Manchester Museum coordinating their secondary and post-16 science programme. Therefore, I get to share my passion for science by creating engaging science workshops using Manchester Museum's stunning collection. But how did I get from Neuroscience to museum? Well, I did end up studying Neuroscience for my degree at the University of Manchester and I liked it so much I stayed and did a four year research PhD in Neuroscience.


My research

The focus of my PhD research was on trying to block the immune system's damaging reaction to brain injury. It might seem odd to try to stop our immune system – which normally protects us from dangerous injections. However, when a brain injury occurs, such as a stroke, our immune system can overreact and as the brain is such a sensitive organ, it can easily be inadvertently damaged, making the situation worse. The research group I was working with are currently trialling an anti-inflammatory treatment which will hopefully reduce the potential damage caused by a stroke if it is given within a few hours of it occurring. Alongside my lab work, I also enjoyed communicating the research to the public. Therefore, I was involved in creating a lot of family and school activities to try and get people interested in Neuroscience and to highlight the important research we were doing. So my current job is an extension of that in the wider context of science; as I get to simplify complex scientific concepts and get to show students the real life application and importance of the science you are taught in school.


Experience

Although my current job does not directly use my Neuroscience knowledge, my PhD has been invaluable and helped me to get my current job. Conducting research, no matter what subject, develops your analytical skills as well as your specific subject knowledge. So whether I mean to or not, I now think like a scientist! Along the way you also gain many useful transferable skills such as communication and project management skills. Don’t get me wrong, doing a PhD isn’t all rosy; there were tough times when things got me down and I had a few wobbles with my confidence – but the challenge was all definitely worth it. I loved being part of a large laboratory group, seeing how everyone’s separate research linked together in the hope of making a big difference to people’s lives in the future. On top of that, I have made some lifelong friends along the way. Looking back, I can't say that I had the last ten years mapped out since sixth form. I could never have guessed I would end up becoming a doctor and working in a museum. But I’m always glad I chose to study a subject that I found so interesting.


Going further...

To find out about studying Neuroscience at the University of Manchester, go to the Faculty of Life Science's webpage and the Neuroscience Research Institute.

The book which inspired my interest in Neuroscience.

For up-to-date news about Neuroscience, go to Neuroscience News.

The Guardian has excellent articles about Neuroscience.

For more ideas about what you can do with a Neuroscience degree, visit the British Neuroscience Association’s website.

To find about more about non-academic career options for PhD students, visit the Prospects website.