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My time with the MRC Centre, Cardiff University

31 July 2018

When I saw the announcements of 9th annual Summer School in brain disorders research organised by MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics in Cardiff, I knew I had to apply. The outline made my inside neuro-nerd tremble with joy! Although I can see genetics will be right in the core of the future of personalised medicine, it has been my personal Achilles heels.

Since first contact with the organisers they showed nothing less that openness, friendliness and willingness to cooperate. They welcomed us with wide smiles to the Hadyn Ellis building.

The opportunity, kindly created by Professor George Kirov, enabled 40 students to, not only take a look at University and its laboratories, but also get to know people working there. The meeting started with gentle introductions to the world of neuroscience and neuroimaging – Professor Mike Owen, Professor Jeremy Hall and Dr Caseras presented where we currently are and what the shape of the future may be.

Later in the afternoon the time was filled with cutting-edge genetic methodology delivered in simple words by Professor Williams and Dr Rees. Lab tours with Dr Evans and Dr Vinh showed us practical aspects of freshly acquired information. They also presented current research and explained potential in machines as automatic little helpers.

The second day was devoted mainly to clinical aspects of neuroscience. Dr Collishaw’s speech introduced us to the psychiatric problems of minors and Professor George immediately followed the topic with the flawless explanation of the importance of copy number variations in neurodevelopmental disorders.

After a quick caffeine boost we learned about addiction – how it develops and as well as methods for overcoming the problem – straight from the passionate Professor Lingford-Hughes. In the afternoon Professor Jones told us about bipolar disorder in pregnancy and the research network that has developed around it.

To finish Dr Peall showed us clinical examples of movement disorders with examples of how genetics may improve diagnostic reasoning and Dr Walters highlighted the importance of big data and the place of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in current research.

Wednesday morning was devoted to connections: Professor Wilkinson paired neuroscience and statistics, Dr Thomas described usage of precision medicine in epilepsy as well as gene importance and Professor Harwood showed the life and usage of stem cells.

Just after that we made a lab tour with passionate PhD candidates who described to us every stage of stem cell culturing, differentiation and maturation. Their research and the images we saw left us in awe. After lunch Dr Isles described to us epigenetics within the brain of local populations and around the world, and Dr Massey updated us on the background and the newest therapies for Huntington’s disease.

In the afternoon we were divided into medical and non-medical groups and were provided with tailored academic advice by Dr Judith Harrison and Dr Kristina Harrison. Their enthusiasm and sound advice still resonates with us and will be used for our professional development in the near future.

We also took a look at CUBRIC – neuroimaging lab with the main focus on patient comfort under the guidance of Dr Murphy. We were impressed by the MRI-trial room, the 7-Tesla MRI and MEG machines used in research of small vessel disease, influence of arterial pressure on brain and many more. The intensive day ended with delicious food and long discussions at Cosy Club in the city centre.

The last day came way too early! It started with intense discussions on ethical problems connected with genetics neatly moderated by Dr Cuthbert. We reflected on our opinions and he challenged us to ask ourselves why we think in a certain pattern. After that Dr Zaben continued the topic of stem-cells and explained its particular usage for cognitive function restoration in patients with epilepsy.

The last lecture provided by Professor Mike Owen about research going on in Cardiff made us want to stay here longer and explore the brain further side by side, working together. That was so inspiring to us! Our genetic consciousness skyrocketed. We acknowledged the importance of its usage in neuroscience research and were thrilled with new application ideas.

Thank you to everyone in Cardiff University for sharing your passion, inspiration, every bigger or smaller talk and constant, welcoming smile!