Unravelling the mysteries of the nervous system

The new Neuroscience Institute at the University of Sheffield is home to over 100 of the best minds in neuroscience research from across medicine, science and engineering. On Friday 18 October the institute brought together staff, students and external partners to present their vision for the future of interdisciplinary neuroscience research here at Sheffield.

Each year hundreds of millions of people die from over a thousand neurological disorders for which we have yet to find a cure. The Neuroscience Institute aims to unravel the mysteries of the nervous system so that they can develop effective treatments for neurological and sensory disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, motor neurone disease (MND), Parkinson’s disease, stroke, impaired hearing and vision and chronic pain.

We have a long history of pioneering neuroscience research. For nearly 10 years, the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) has been bringing together scientists, clinicians and patients to translate work in the lab into real solutions that improve the lives of patients affected by devastating neurological diseases.

Today I want to make sure that everyone, from PhD students to senior academics, feel part of something.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw

Director of the Neuroscience Institute, Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, has been at the helm of SITraN and now aims to bring together more disciplines from cognitive neuroscience and clinical dentistry to mechanical engineering and computer science. The event gave researchers the opportunity to connect with those from other departments and faculties and to engage with organisations such as the British Neuroscience Association, Sheffield City Region and the Northern Health Science Alliance. The aim was to make the most of the collaborative opportunities that the new institute brings by presenting an overview of research already taking place and creating a forum for discussion.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw said: “Today I want to make sure that everyone, from PhD students to senior academics, feel part of something. I want us to get to know each other, learn about what’s going on and showcase the high quality research taking place across the institute. We will also celebrate the rising stars of neuroscience research in Sheffield.”

By taking your research and translating it into pioneering treatments, you have the power to make a real difference to the lives of patients and their families across the world.

Professor Koen lamberts

President and Vice Chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts opened the event: “Neuroscience in Sheffield is a real asset and we are very proud of it. Our neurological systems are undeniably complex so to prevent and treat neurological and sensory-related diseases effectively we need to vastly improve our knowledge of the brain and nervous system.

“This is why the work you are doing is so important and why we have made it a priority for our University. By taking your research and translating it into pioneering treatments, you have the power to make a real difference to the lives of patients and their families across the world.”

Head up collar

SITraN lab

Neuroscience event

Nerve repair

During the event, academics from across the three research pillars presented their work on translational, sensory, developmental, computational and systems neuroscience. PhD students were also invited to present posters at the event, which gave them a great opportunity to talk about their research with a variety of people. Guests heard about some of the breakthroughs that are already making a real difference to the lives of patients.

The Head Up collar was developed as a result of a collaboration between neuroscientists, engineers and Motor Neuron Disease (MND) patients. MND patients highlighted the need for a comfortable and supportive neck collar and worked with researchers to develop a purpose built solution. Following some help from NASA technology, the Head Up Collar is now celebrated in the MND community and is available world-wide and used across the NHS.

A team of specialists have pioneered the use of a breakthrough stem cell transplant treatment in the UK, which is the first to significantly halt severe relapsing episodes of multiple sclerosis (MS). The treatment rebuilds a patient’s immune system using their own bone marrow stem cells with 87 per cent of patients reporting no relapses since the operation. The team have been awarded the national 2019 NHS Future Parliamentary Award for their work.

Our researchers have also played an instrumental role in providing proof of concept studies for gene therapy approaches for spinal muscular atrophy and motor neuron disease. They have pioneered a gene silencing treatment and Sheffield is the flagship UK site invited to deliver a gene therapy trial for MND using this approach. MND patients have reported stabilisation and improvement in their symptoms – with researchers hearing stories of patients being able to walk up stairs again and even write their own Christmas cards, something they were not able to do the year before.

A cutting-edge collaboration between the School of Dentistry and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering has helped people with the problem of long-term pain. Combining neuroscience with 3D printing expertise, researchers are developing a new way to repair nerve damage, using biocompatible materials. We are the only known institute in the country capable of using these cutting edge technologies to successfully repair the trigeminal nerve.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw said “We are very ambitious with what we think we can achieve in the Neuroscience Institute. We want to build on the success of SITraN, where clinicians are co-located with scientists, to create a new multidisciplinary Neuroscience building on the campus. We are also campaigning for a new GMP facility to link with industry and enable advances in the laboratory to be translated into better outcomes for patients in the clinical setting at a faster rate.

“We have great potential to attract external funding to become a funded centre for Neuroscience research. I believe we can achieve this and it would confirm our position as a true centre of excellence in the field.”

To speak to the team about working with the institute, email neuroscience@sheffield.ac.uk