Translational neuroscience research in the School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine brings together world class clinical and experimental scientists with expertise in diverse aspects of neurobiology.
From molecular and cellular aspects, to the brain as a whole, through the extensive network of neural connections across the body, our aim is to understand how these biological underpinnings interact with psychological and social factors to cause the neurological and psychiatric disorders associated with neurotrauma and other neurodegenerative conditions.
Clinical researchers at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and National Centre for Mental Health that adjoin the Medical School are facilitating our focus on translational neuroscience. Together with trauma specialists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-opthalmologists, psychologists and psychiatrists at the new NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital are allowing us to applying insights gained through fundamental research to develop novel pharmacological and cellular therapies for acute and chronic neurodegenerative and psychiatric disease. Our excellence in research informs the development and delivery of our research and taught programmes including Medicine (MBChB), Medical Science (BMedSc), Postgraduate doctoral research programmes (PgR), Postgraduate courses (PgT) and Postgraduate continuing professional development courses (CPD).
Major areas of clinical research
Trauma to the brain, spinal cord and eye, whilst presenting diverse clinical challenges and management approaches, by and large shares common mechanisms, epidemiology and several pathophysiological aspects. The Neurotrauma research group encompasses laboratory scientists, clinicians and biotechnologists who share expertise, knowledge and solutions. The Neurotrauma group carries out translational research to address the challenges of military and civilian trauma, and to underpin clinical studies at the NIHR SRMRC, the Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit, the Wellcome Trust Clinical Trials Facilities in Birmingham or at national and international collaborating institutions.
Lead: Dr Antonio Belli
Neurodegeneration encompasses a large group of diseases associated with specific pathology and neuronal death in different parts of the nervous system.
Our team works on a wide range of topics relating to acute and chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Current research programmes concern the genetics and cellular pathology of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Glaucoma.
Based on our understanding of the cellular pathology associated with these diseases we aim to develop early disease biomarkers and novel therapeutic interventions, including gene therapy. The variety of basic research programmes is complemented by clinical programmes, including therapeutic trials in dementia, Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson’s disease.
The clinicians of the team have established valuable DNA and serum banks (PD, MND, PSP, MSA) and initiated sample collection from dementia patients for the local tissue repository.
Lead: Dr Zsuzsanna Nagy
Neuronal Networks and Epilepsy
How the brain works is one of the most challenging questions facing mankind. When it malfunctions it can produce challenging diseases such as epilepsy. The integrated operation of the large and complex networks of brain cells (neurons and glia) are crucial for normal brain function and for understanding neurological diseases
The group uses cutting-edge technologies to address the dynamic interactions of neurons and glia organised functional neural networks in the mammalian brain. We focus on normal brain mechanisms in health and their dysfunction in diseases, feeding into the translational pathway towards clinical application. Perhaps the most dramatic dysfunction of neuronal network dynamics is during the seizures found in epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a common serious neurological condition raising substantial unmet clinical needs. It is associated with extreme network dynamics of hippocampus and other cortical structures during seizures. We mainly work on temporal lobe epilepsy, which in most cases depends on non-traumatic precipitating events. Key questions include the structural and functional changes of neurons and glia in chronic epileptic foci, and potential biomarkers to improve epilepsy surgery.
Neuronal networks and the dynamics of their operation play critical roles in normal (physiological) function, for instance in the physiological oscillations associated with many behaviours, or more specifically gamma oscillations associated with cognition. Disruption of these networks helps explain the functional consequences of a range of states including: developmental disorders, normal ageing, exposure to psychoactive drugs, and movement disorders due to dysfunction of basal ganglia and motor cortex
We believe that a multidisciplinary approach spanning molecular biology to behaviour, offers the best way to understand the complex nature of brain function and malfunction. To achieve this goal we exploit the latest optogenetic and electrophysiological techniques in vitro and in vivo, advanced neuroanatomy, and computational approaches using extensive state-of-the-art equipment in our specialized laboratories. Members of the group based in the School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine have peer-reviewed grant funding totalling over £2M. Our range of projects is unified though the fundamental aim of identifying the properties of cells and neural circuits and relating them to the behaviour of the whole organism.
Lead: Professor Attila Sik
With thanks to Dr P Jiruska for use of the image.
Academic psychiatry within the Neurotrauma and Neurodegeneration Section of the School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine at the University of Birmingham comprises a multidisciplinary group of academic and clinical staff with research, teaching and clinical responsibilities. We are based in purpose-built accommodation in the National Centre for Mental Health, which is five minutes walk away from the Medical School.
We have current research programmes in major affective and psychotic disorders including perinatal psychiatry, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Members of our research groups work with local, national and international collaborators and have research funding from the Wellcome Trust, Stanley Medical Research Institute, Big Lottery, European Union and the NHS.
Our focus is on improving understanding and management of mental illnesses. Our work ranges from understanding the basic biological, psychological and social underpinnings of mental illness to evaluating the services in which patients are treated. Our overriding aim is to conduct high-quality translational research which improves the lives of those affected by mental illness.
We are committed to evidence-based education about mental illness, and contribute widely to undergraduate and postgraduate education within the College of Medical and Dental Sciences. We are all involved with training medical students (MBChB) about mental illness, most notably during the clinical psychiatry module in year 4 but also in the early years of the programme through core psychology and neuroscience teaching and a suite of optional Special Study Modules in diverse topics ranging from the biological basis of mental illness to public understanding of personality disorders. We lead a highly popular Intercalated Medical Sciences (BMedSc) Programme in Psychological Medicine for medical students who wish to undertake in-depth study and research into mental health. At postgraduate level we run two taught MSc programmes in Clinical Neuropsychiatry and Forensic Mental Health Studies in addition to supervising postgraduate research students (MPhil and PhD).
There are a number of initiatives within the department to support the communication of our research with the public, patients and ex-service users. Of note, we host Action on Postpartum Psychosis, a Big Lottery funded project, to provide information to those with severe postnatal mental illness.
Lead: Dr Lisa Jones