The facilities available in, and the research carried out at, the Birmingham University Imaging Centre at the University of Birmingham.
Title: Birmingham University Imaging Centre
Duration: 6.15 mins
Speaker Names (if given):
S1 Dr Andy Bagshaw
S2 Dr Jason Thomas
S3 Becky Wilson
S4 Professor Stephen Wood
S5 Professor Chris Miall
S6 Brad Mattan
S1: BUIC is the Birmingham University Imaging Centre and it’s a collaboration between Psychology, the Medical School, Engineering and Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences. We’ve got the MRI scanner, we’ve got facilities for EEG as so we can just have people use those facilities to do whatever research they want to do. Now most of what we’ve got is to do with neuroscience, so it’s specifically trying to understand brain function and brain structure, either in normal, healthy individuals or in different types of brain disorder. So, some of the work’s done in epilepsy, sleep disorders or mental health problems.
The facility is there for use by anyone who really wants to, so whether that’s clinicians from the hospital, or whether it’s researchers and academics from the University or students – Masters students, PhD students - undergraduate students run projects on the scanner. So they can propose something and they can get the time, go on the scanner and we can try and help them by giving the expertise in, not only acquiring the imaging data, but also analysing it to help them understand and answer the research question they are interested in.
S2: My name is Jason Thomas and I’m a Research Fellow here at the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham and my work focuses on trying to develop new ways to identify effective anti-obesity drugs, so drugs which can be used to promote weight loss. What we’ve been doing is trying to use neuroimaging, so brain imaging, here at the Birmingham University Imaging Centre to look at how anti-obesity drugs affect human brain activity.
So, we show participants pictures of food items and non-food items while they had an anti-obesity drug in their system. What we’re looking to find is a profile associated with effective anti-obesity drugs. The idea is that we can then use this template so that when novel drugs are being created and developed we can say, “Is this new drug showing the same sort of pattern of activity in the brain”. If it is then we know that this is an effective drug, or likely to be an effective drug, and we can concentrate on developing this compound. The reason for this is that developing drugs takes hundreds of millions of pounds and it also takes decades of research and with over half a billion obese individuals in the world it’s obviously very important that we are able to provide those treatments as efficiently as we can.
S3: I’m Becky, I’m a doctoral researcher here at Birmingham within the school of psychology. I’m in my second year now and I conduct my research at BUIC using multimodal imaging techniques to look at the brain during sleep.
My research currently focuses on identifying the changes in intrinsic connectivity between the different regions of the brain and how this changes through the sleep and wake cycle.
In order to asses this I use two techniques simultaneously, EEG, or Electroencephalography, which measures the electrical brain activity and also fMRI, which looks at the metabolic changes in the brain, to continually monitor the brains activity when a person is sleeping. This requires the person to sleep in the MR scanner at night, around their usual bedtime. I’m particularly interested in the different stages of sleep and how these change the brain’s connectivity.
Cognitive performance, how we perform on certain behavioural tasks during wakefulness is also assessed in the individual to establish the interplay between our waking behaviour and subsequent changes occurring in the sleeping brain. By understanding this we may better understand why we sleep and why it is so fundamental to our everyday functioning.
S4: I’m Professor Stephen Wood, I’m Professor of Adolescent Brain Development and Youth Mental Health here at the University of Birmingham. My interest is really in how severe mental illnesses, like psychosis, develop and what defines the moment when somebody can be said to have an illness.
When somebody becomes ill that’s usually on the basis of the symptoms that they tell us about and a threshold that we’ve set. No real biological basis for it. And so we’re trying to use brain scanning to give us information about that kind of boundary.
Is there a lot of brain change happening before people become clinically unwell? Does it happen only at the time of people making that transition? Or does it happen after that illness onset? So is it a result of maybe getting medication or the stress of becoming psychotic? Because if we can find some biological basis for this transition point between generally being well and generally being unwell then that gives us a better target for interventions whether that’s medication or psychotherapy.
S5: My name’s Chris Miall, I’m a Professor in the School of Psychology here. My team is interested in motor learning, how the brain learns and adapts to movements across the lifespan. We know that learning is expressed as changes in the connections between the nerve cells, the synapses that link one nerve cell to another and, in fact, we can measure those changes by using MRI scanners which allow us to see those connections, even during the resting state. We also know that after a period of motor learning there’s a process of memory consolidation as short-term get expressed as long-term memories and we know that takes place over several hours. So we’ve put these things together and tried to measure changes in the brain after a period of learning during the resting state. And, of course, we have been able to do that. You can detect these changes immediately after learning.
I think one of the long term aims of our research is to understand how the brain changes and to potential use that information to look at things like rehabilitation after injury or rehabilitation after stroke.
S6: As we get older, how exactly do our minds age? I’m Brad Mattan, I’m a doctoral student in the School of Psychology.
As we get older our ability to process multiple pieces of information at once tends to diminish, even while our general knowledge of the world is preserved. Popular media portrays older adults as slow and socially inept. However, there’s some debate as to whether or not, as people get older, these social abilities, like perspective taking, decline.
One factor that seems to lead to preserved social abilities in older adults is self-relevance, which is the extent to which an individual finds a person or subject meaningful. My research has shown that older adults tend to prioritise the more self-relevant of closely related perspective compared to the perspective of a stranger. We originally trained participants to identify themselves with one particular colour, let’s say blue for example, and a second avatar is identified with a stranger. Participants are instructed you’ll either be taking the self perspective or the other’s perspective and they’re asked to simply indicate how many dots one or the other avatar can see.
These findings are helping us to better understand how self-relevance in motivation may helped to counter cognitive decline in ageing. Future work will be using neuroimaging and behavioural methods to better understand these factors.
S1: The MRI scanner is just a normal clinical scanner. Although we use it for research the actual piece of kit, the machine itself, is exactly the same as you’d find in a hospital and although the work that we do is mainly involved with the brain it doesn’t have to be. The scanner can do anything you want. It can do the knee, it can do the liver, any part of the body you are interested in. You can put someone in that scanner and you can get good quality imaging data out of it.
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