A’ level Biology trip: Getting to know your Brain

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On Wednesday 15th March, 28 A’ level Biologists and teaching staff attended the Getting to know your Brain event at the University of Leicester’s Centre for Medicine, in acknowledgment of Brain Awareness Week. This new and beautiful building is architecturally interesting as it is the largest non-residential Passive House in the UK.  The afternoon of lectures and demonstrations was inspirational for all and gave our students a real insight into the ground breaking neurological research that is going on at their doorsteps.

The first lecture of the day inspired our students with up-to-date information on research into Schizophrenia, making us wonder if we were all a little schizotypal! We realised how much more there is to learn about this disease, and although there is a strong genetic component, its development is strongly linked to periods of stress in infancy or later life.  The second lecture explained the role of eye movements in reading and we were invited to peer down paper tubes, to appreciate how little of our field of view is seen in detail.  The third lecture was particularly inspiring, as we heard how potential treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s were developed, using genetically modified yeast, fruit flies and mice!

We then refuelled our brains on an excellent range of sandwiches and cake and were then given the chance to chat to the ‘brain scientists’ themselves and a range of PhD students who were keen to explain their research projects to us.

In addition to the excellent lectures, there were a number of very interesting demonstrations. Students were wired up so that they could observe their neuronal activity as their muscles contracted, and we also watched similar neuronal activity in an individual neurone running from a locust’s eye to its wing muscles. We were also able to peer down a darkened microscope at a genetically modified zebra fish with fluorescent motor neurones – a fascinating project linked to finding a model organism within which to study Motor Neurone Disease.

Dr Robinson and Mrs Dungey