Neuroscience Spring Conference 2019, 15 March 2019
Delegates gathered from around the UK for the eagerly anticipated Third Annual RCPsych Neuroscience Spring Conference in London. This year’s event focused on the ‘Genetics and Epigenetics of the Brain and Behaviour’, promising a jam-packed day of cutting-edge Neuroscience with presentations from researchers at the forefront of their field from across the globe.
We saw how schizophrenia may share the same genetic risks with the early onset neurodevelopmental disorders such as intellectual disability, ASD and ADHD. This ‘Neurodevelopmental continuum and gradient’ is a major challenge to our categorical diagnostic system’s validity and implies we should pay careful attention to our patients’ early development during assessments.
We learnt that polymorphisms, such as retrotransposons (‘jumping genes’), in the non-coding genome can affect gene expression patterns and responses to environmental challenges and are implicated in neuropsychiatric conditions.
We heard how significant advances in genomic studies of depression are helping our understanding of the underlying mechanisms in the development of depression and hopefully will support the development of more personalised therapies.
In a discussion around resilience to developing psychiatric disorders we learnt that fMRI studies reveal what could be a ‘brain signature’ for resilience to developing bipolar disorder in people exposed to high genetic and environmental risks. This has the potential to be harnessed to develop new, protective therapies.
Some fascinating, almost futuristic research with the potential to explain disorders of brain connectivity showed how ‘mini brain’ organoids from pluripotent stem cells enable in vitro modelling of neuronal migration, maturation and function in the human brain.
Meanwhile, data from behavioural studies demonstrated how adverse experiences in early life can manifest not just in altered and distressed behaviour, but also leave their mark on germ cells as an ‘epigenetic footprint’ that transcends generations, affecting descendants’ behaviour despite them not being directly exposed to the trauma.
The day was an unmissable opportunity for interdisciplinary conversation between researchers and clinicians about how Neuroscience can advance our understanding of mental illness and shape patient care in the future. It inspired me to ask questions, such as ‘What is the dynamic interplay between nature and nurture in the development of mental illness?’ ‘Why do relatives at high risk of mental illness not develop it?’ ‘How can trauma transcend generations?’ and many others.
The conference also marked the launch of the RCPsych Neuroscience Champions scheme, developed and coordinated by Dr Gareth Cuttle. This group of Psychiatric trainees will form a network across the UK to ensure that Neuroscience is properly integrated into their respective deaneries. We were fortunate enough to receive a bursary to attend the conference, and it was a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded trainees from different regions excited about shaping the integration of neuroscience in our respective localities.
The 2020 Neuroscience Spring Conference will be on Friday 13th March at the RCPsych in London. Watch out for news later in the year, sign up and join the conversation about how Neuroscience is shaping the future of Psychiatry!
RCPsych Neuroscience Champion for Severn
More than 50 enthusiastic participants converged on Birmingham on 1 June for the latest instalment of ‘Inspiring excellence in neuroscience education’, the training-the-trainers programme from the RCPsych’s Gatsby/Wellcome Neuroscience Project.
The event drew people from across the West Midlands and beyond and we were excited to welcome our first international participant to Brain Camp in the shape of Professor Gerry Craigen of the University of Toronto, Canada.
A packed programme featured presentations on cutting-edge neuroscience research from Dr Mandy Johnstone (University of Edinburgh) and Dr David Cousins (Newcastle University).
Dr Johnstone, a Clinical Research Fellow and Liaison Psychiatrist, held the room transfixed as she described how skin biopsies from patients with schizophrenia can be turned into cerebral organoids and grown in vitro as a model to study brain development.
Later, Clinician Scientist Dr Cousins showed some fascinating imaging studies that he and ‘Team Lithium’ have been involved in to investigate the distribution of lithium in the brain.
A key part of the day was a series of interactive sessions to illustrate engaging approaches to the teaching and learning of neuroscience.
Dr Cousins ran an extremely popular masterclass on ‘Teaching Imaging Techniques’, and this was followed by practical workshops on ‘Talking to your Patient about the Brain’, ‘Making your Journal Club a Success Story’, and the ever-popular ‘Build your Brain’ hands-on neuroanatomy with Play Doh, which everyone found hugely enjoyable.
Active participation is a hallmark of Brain Camps and everyone was eagerly involved throughout the day.
There was universal enthusiasm for the presentations and the ample time allowed for discussion, the sharing of ideas and good practice was thoroughly appreciated.
After taking part in Brain Camp, people felt much more in touch with modern neuroscience research and much more confident in their ability to teach neuroscience to trainees. Brain Camp, and the Neuroscience Project, will continue to ‘inspire excellence in neuroscience education’.
Our thanks to Angela Appleby, RCPsych West Midlands Division Manager, for her help in putting the event together.
Watch out for announcements on further Brain Camp opportunities around the UK later in 2018.
'Brain Camp': Supporting a high-quality educational experience in neuroscience for trainee psychiatrists. For all enquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Psychiatrist among Neuroscientists
The 2019 meeting of the British Neuroscience Association was undoubtedly a commemoration of neuroscientific knowledge, but the denomination of “Festival” was misleading: this was no party. Four days packed with sessions with a wide range of exhilarating, current and relevant themes. On top of this, the international panel of speakers did not miss a beat and were outstanding. The ability to be in two or more places at the same time would have been handy, but alas, I had to choose the sessions I felt would be most relevant for me.
To anyone thinking that a clinical psychiatrist would struggle with the content of a full-blown neuroscientific conference – this is not the case! The relevance of neuroscience in psychiatry is such that there were plenty of lectures available to meet the needs and curiosity of a psychiatrist. Amongst them was one of my personal favourites – a discussion of neurobiological candidates for the rapid antidepressant response to ketamine. This topic is very current and “hyped” at the moment and the discussion of the potential role of dopamine, glutamate and, surprisingly, opioid receptors in the antidepressant effect of ketamine certainly sparked my interest.
My highlight of the next two days was listening to Professor Essi Viding discussing psychopathy and the old debate of nature vs. nurture. It turns out we are all very bad at detecting lies, contrary to what some parents might want to believe!
Starting the final day with a discussion on sleep and the neuroendocrine system was particularly interesting taking into account that psychiatrists work nights and often ignore the impact of sleep disruption.
Appropriately, I left Dublin exhausted, but motivated by the advances happening throughout the neuroscientific community. Every psychiatrist should attend this type of conference from time to time.