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Food for thought

by YPU Admin on October 19, 2017, Comments. Tags: brain, Neuroscience, obesity, PhD, and psychology

Introduction

My name is Imca Hensels, and I am a PhD student nearing the end of my first year. I am in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, where I am a part-time Teaching Assistant and a part-time PhD student. My research focuses on what happens in the brains of obese people when they eat, and how this differs from what happens in the brains of people who have a normal weight.

In Depth...

I started my education at Amsterdam University College (http://www.auc.nl/), where I studied Liberal Arts and Sciences with a major in Psychology. I always really enjoyed studying lots of things and I did not know exactly what I wanted to study for my bachelor’s degree. Studying Liberal Arts and Sciences allowed me to explore lots of things (from biomedical sciences to English literature), and I ended up loving psychology, so I stuck with that. After my bachelor’s degree, I went on to do the MSc Research Methods in Psychology at University College London (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/pals/study/masters/TMSPSYSRES01). This is where I met my current PhD supervisor and where I really started to specifically study eating behaviour, which is the topic of my PhD as well.

For my PhD, more specifically, I investigate what happens on a neuronal level in the brain when people expect to eat food, and when they actually eat the food. I do this using electroencephalography (EEG), which allows me to measure brain activity at the millisecond level. I am hoping that by finding out how obese people’s brains differ from normal-weight people’s brains when they eat food, we will be able to understand why some people overeat and others do not. It might even be the case that my current research will be able to lead to the development of new therapies or even social policies at some point. I would say that in general, I very much enjoy what I do. Doing a PhD is very challenging – much more challenging than I expected when I started – which is usually quite fun because it keeps me on my toes. Of course, the flipside is that sometimes the challenges can get quite overwhelming, leading to a lot of stress.  

I am not sure what I want to do after my PhD. My plan was always to keep doing research and eventually become a professor. I might still do this, but the experience I have gained during my PhD has also shown me that there are many things to do outside of research, or even outside of academia. For instance, being a Teaching Assistant on the BSc Psychology has also made me think about the possibility of going into teaching full-time, because the teaching I am doing now feels very worthwhile and fulfilling.

Going Further…

If you want to know more about the research that my lab group does, please visit our website. (http://research.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/emotionalcognitionlab/)

If you are interested in studying psychology, you can read more about the University of Manchester’s BSc Psychology here. (http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2017/00653/bsc-psychology/)

If you want to read more about psychological research in an accessible way I would recommend checking out Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/) and the science blogs from the Guardian for scientific research in general (https://www.theguardian.com/science/series/science-blog-network)

 

The Brain in Pain

by YPU Admin on March 17, 2016, Comments. Tags: brain, Chronic Pain, Medic, Nerves, pain, PhD, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Javin Sandhu. I am currently a medical student intercalating between years 4 and 5 of medical school to perform an MRes in Medical Sciences. This MRes course provides you with an opportunity to take on a research project that grabs your interest with a supportive supervisor who guides you through the process.

I was fortunate to do my research project in the processing of pain in the brain thereby combining my two core interests: neurology (study of the nervous system) and anaesthetics (drugs that work on the nervous system to put people to sleep). In addition, I have been fortunate to receive the John Snow for Anaesthetic Research funded by the BJA/RCoA to help support me during the master’s degree (please see http://www.niaa.org.uk/article.php?newsid=1454). 

In Depth…

When we experience pain, certain regions of the brain are activated. All these regions make up a “pain matrix”.  The pain matrix is divided into areas which process the location of pain and the emotional effect of that pain. Chronic pain and acute pain activate the same regions of the pain matrix but to different extents. These differences suggest that we should be aiming to develop ways of imaging ongoing clinical pain. Previous research from the Human Pain Research Group (see below for link), has shown success for treatment approaches such as meditation and placebo. This previous research has also shown an increase in a certain pattern of brain activity (known as alpha activity). There are various methods on how to image the brain’s functions. These approaches depend on how the brain uses oxygen (showing brain activity) or the electrical activity of the brain (which shows which brain cells are transferring information).

What do I investigate?

My research is based upon trying to find a unique pattern of brain activity for chronic pain by measuring the brain’s electrical activity in patients with chronic pain caused by rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.  I will be using EEG to pick up the brain’s electrical activity and analysing this data to figure out which areas of the brain are activated. We hope to find a unique pattern of brain activity which can be used in the future to test patients with chronic pain. This would help figure out how much pain these patients are in and to prevent patients which are addicted to painkillers “faking their chronic pain”.

Going Further…

You can visit this website for more information about The Human Pain Research Group -(http://www.bbmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/ccn/pain/)

For more information about the MRes Medical Sciences course, please see -(http://www.mhs.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/medical-sciences-mres/)

Also if you want more information about pain, please see - (http://www.iasp-pain.org/)

Finally, for a brief introduction into brain imaging techniques, please see -(http://www.bbmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/ccn/pain/Research/brainimaging/)

 

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