Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Update on neuroscience funding

I wrote last week about a series of recent funding body announcements that have left UK scientists (especially those in the neurosciences, but many others too) feeling very worried about the future.  For example, in addition to the recent closure of a number of pharmaceutical company neuroscience research facilities, a previously major funder of basic cognitive neuroscience research, the BBSRC, announced it was re-prioritising its funding away from neuroscience.  Even more concerning for the future of the field, several funding schemes aimed particularly at early-career researchers have recently been overhauled in a manner that, I argued, seemed to significantly reduce the ability of a new researcher to establish a neuroscience research group.

Even if some of the reports turn out not to reflect accurately the changes that have been made, these recent developments have caused a great deal of concern amongst researchers.  As a result, it has been particularly welcome to see announcements and comments in the last few days from another major research council whose remit includes neuroscience, the MRC.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Is there a cognitive neuroscience funding crisis?

When I started my lectureship (a position equivalent to assistant professor in the US system) way back in the good old days of 2007, one of the first things I had to think about was how to begin building a research group.  My research interests are in understanding human memory using cognitive neuroscience techniques such as neuropsychology (studying the way memory is disrupted following brain damage or dementia) and neuroimaging (studying the brain areas that are particularly active while remembering).  We are seeking a greater understanding of the way in which different memory processes are organised in the brain, as a means to determine how these processes might be preserved or impaired in neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Cognitive neuroscience often generates great excitement in the media and the public in general.  This is apparent most obviously in the genuine fascination people have with seeing where in the brain “lights up” during a particular kind of behaviour.  Perhaps somewhat less evident in the media, but still captivating to many who hear about it, are the many strange and wonderful examples of altered behaviour following brain injury or stroke.  Indeed, it was through hearing vivid descriptions of neuropsychological behaviours from an inspirational undergraduate lecturer that I became hooked on the area as a student.  Another reason perhaps for the great interest in cognitive neuroscience in this country is that the UK is very good at it.  Considering the disparities in funding and resources compared with the US, for example, the UK is right up there among the world leaders in the field no matter which measure you choose.  Just as one example, two of the top five (and three of the top ten) most highly cited scientists in the field work in the UK

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Exercise may be good for you, but it doesn’t boost your memory

“Moderate exercise such as walking boosts memory power” claims the BBC.

“Exercise in middle age can improve your memory” says the Daily Mail.

“Older adults improve memory through exercise” reports CNN.

“Want to improve your memory? Take a walk” invites Time.

These are just some of the many headlines today resulting from the publication of a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) entitled “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory”, by Kirk Erickson from the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues from the University of Illinois. You can access the abstract of the article here, although you may need to pay to read the whole paper.