Listen: The first Galway Neuroscience Podcast!

Listen: The first Galway Neuroscience Podcast!

The Galway Neuroscience Podcast is a series of podcasts developed and hosted by the students of the NUIG Masters in Clinical Neuroscience program. The aim of this podcast is to communicate the latest neuroscience research and education to both students and lay audiences who may be interested in the brain and nervous system and the field of neuroscience as a whole.

In our first episode, Emma and Michael discuss an interesting article about how parasites infect the brain. Our guest speaker, Dr. Derek Morris talks to us about the development of the Galway Neuroscience Centre over the last number of years and the direction of the research in NUI Galway going forward. Nathan and Ellie answer some brain-related questions submitted to us by secondary school students from around the country.

Listen here.

GNC researchers shine a light on chronic pain

GNC researchers shine a light on chronic pain

A recent study from researchers at the Galway Neuroscience Centre and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Medical Devices at NUI Galway, explores the use of optogenetics as a method to relieve chronic pain. Optogenetics uses genetically-encoded proteins that change position and shape in the presence of light to turn brain cells on or off.

Pain is comprised of both sensory (physical intensity) and affective (emotional distress) components. A part of the brain involved in the emotional component of pain is called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

Dr Sarah Jarrin (pictured), CÚRAM, NUI Galway and first author of the paper, said: “There is significant overlap in the neural circuitry of pain and anxiety in our brains. Sensory pain is our body’s natural alarm system, it is an important mechanism that alerts us to injury and danger. So rather than turning off that alarm system, we are targeting the distress component of pain, a promising target for chronic pain relief that is not addressed by current treatments.

“The technique of optogenetics is opening up lots of possibilities for further neuroscience research. With the use of light-activated proteins called opsins, optogenetics allows us to switch on or off a selective population of neurons that control this affective component of pain.”

The study, funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), focused on the two components of pain (physical and emotional), the distinct roles they play in the pain experience, and how they can often influence one another.

Chronic pain and anxiety frequently go hand in hand. People with chronic pain are also more likely to have anxiety and depression than the general population. The research looked specifically at the role of glutamatergic neurons of the ACC (glutamatergic neurons release the chemical transmitter glutamate, responsible for signalling between nerve cells) and changes in a protein marker of neuronal activity, known as c-Fos, in the ACC.

The study was able to show that when the glutamatergic neurons in the ACC were silenced, it is possible to abolish the aversion to pain without affecting the sensory component of pain. The study also showed that optogenetic activation of glutamatergic neurons of the ACC has a differential effect in males and females in terms of pain response.

Dr Jarrin added: “The inclusion of both sexes in pain studies is critical, because of differences in pain that have been observed between the sexes. Little is known about differences in the regulation of the physical and emotional components of pain in the male and female brain. Studies have found differences in the functional connectivity between the ACC and other brain regions of important regulating pain in males and females, which may account for differences in the effect of optogenetic treatment.”

Being able to target the emotional component of pain specifically could be therapeutically beneficial for patients with chronic pain, however further research to better understand the neural circuitry is required to develop these improved treatments.

Professor David Finn, Co-Director of NUI Galway’s Centre for Pain Research and principal investigator on the published study, said: “We are excited to publish these interesting data which advance our understanding of how the brain regulates pain, and how this may differ between males and females.”

The study was carried out as part of Dr Sarah Jarrin’s PhD project, jointly supervised by Dr David Finn, Dr Michelle Roche and Dr Abhay Pandit at NUI Galway.

The full paper can be accessed here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.00139/full

Prizewinning researchers from GNC and CPR

Prizewinning researchers from GNC and CPR

Researchers from GNC and CPR recently won prestigious prizes for their research at the 20th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Irish Pain Society 2020, continuing an impressive track record of success in these competitions.  The meeting was the Irish Pain Society’s first virtual meeting, held over the online platform Zoom.

The following researchers won prizes for their poster presentations:

Catherine Healy and Jessica Gaspar (joint first authors), supervised by Prof. David Finn and Dr. Michelle Roche, won the IPS Preclinical Research Medal for their poster entitled “Pharmacological blockade of PPAR Alpha impairs recognition memory but not anxiety-related behaviour in a rat model of chronic inflammatory pain”.

Laura Boullon, supervised by Dr. Álvaro Llorente-Berzal and Prof. David Finn, won Second Prize in the Preclinical Research category for her poster entitled “Sex dependent alterations in pain- and anxiety- related behaviours and cognition in a rat model of peripheral neuropathic pain”.

Dr. Hannah Durand, supervised by Prof. Brian McGuire, won the IPS Clinical Research Medal for her poster entitled “Prevalence and impact of primary dysmenorrhea among university students in Ireland”.

Kelly McDonagh, supervised by Prof. Brian McGuire, won Second Prize in the Clinical Research category for her poster entitled “Being a parent of a child with Down’s arthritis : an interpretive phenomenological analysis”.

The research competition was judged by a panel of international experts who commended the high quality of the research.

NUI Galway researchers joined researchers, clinical experts and scientists from a range of professional disciplines including pain medicine, surgery, nursing, physiotherapy and psychology in presenting their work to an audience of scientists and health practitioners. Marking the Global Year for Prevention of Pain, the meeting heard about challenges and opportunities in preventing pain, and new and innovative approaches in research and clinical practice.

A weekend of Galway-based science films!

A weekend of Galway-based science films!

This weekend (5th to 8th November) saw Ireland’s first Science Film Festival, Science on Screen, taking place. The ‘Science on Screen Film Festival’ showcased the best of science in film, and this year incorporated themes of representation and diversity in science, public trust in science and the value of art-science collaborations.

Featuring on the programme were several Galway-based neuroscience films, some of which were made as part of the Science on Screen scheme. These included “Feats of Modest Valour” featuring the Parkinson’s research by Eilís Dowd and her team; “A Tiny Spark” featuring the stroke research being carried out by Karen Doyle and her team; as well as “The Patient Effect” which tells the story of Public and Patient Involvement in Research.

The programme also featured short film submissions from around the world from which the Galway neuroscience film, “Mood Atlas” was awarded the Inaugural Best Short Film Award. Mood Atlas tells the story of Shane Hickey, a young man living with bipolar disorder, and the neuroimaging research being carried out by Dara Cannon and her research team on trying to understand this disorder.

The festival was hosted by CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices based in NUI Galway, and the Galway Film Centre, who together established the successful Science on Screen scheme in 2016.

Biochemical Society webinar with GNC’s Prof David Finn

Biochemical Society webinar with GNC’s Prof David Finn

The UK’s Biochemical Society and their publishing arm, Portland Press, have initiated a series of webinars called the Biochemistry Focus webinar series.

On 29 October 2020 at 3 pm (GMT), the webinar will be ‘Neurobiology of Chronic Pain – mechanisms, management, and in-between’.

This will feature the Galway Neuroscience Centre’s former Director, Prof David Finn as an expert speaker, as well as Dr Eilís Dowd as Chairperson of the event.

The registration link is provided below and registration is free. Each webinar will provide attendees with the opportunity to ask questions and these online events are free to attend.

Link to register: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3454134880462562315

If you are unable to attend on the day, please note that all webinars are recorded and will be made freely available to watch at a later date.

Fiona Martyn writes for RTÉ Brainstorm on Ireland’s problem with alcohol

Fiona Martyn writes for RTÉ Brainstorm on Ireland’s problem with alcohol

Galway Neuroscience Centre PhD student, Fiona Martyn, from the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory, tells RTÉ Brainstorm why we need to talk about Ireland’s problem with alcohol.

Read Fiona’s article in full here.

Fiona began her PhD in September 2018 under the supervision of Dr Dara Cannon. Her PhD research uses in vivo neuroimaging techniques to investigate the relationship between alterations in the structure and function of the brain, and moderate and binge alcohol use in bipolar disorder.

In September 2020, Fiona who won the “ECNP’s Got Talent” contest at the 33rd European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference which was held online from 12-15th September. Read more about this win here.

Fiona has a BSc Psychology with Neuropsychology from Bangor University, North Wales. She has previously worked as a Youth Outreach Alcohol and Other Drugs counsellor in Melbourne, Australia, and as a Drug Diversion Alcohol and Other Drugs Counsellor in rural Australia.