The health of our brains is complex and can face many challenges over the lifespan. Whether it be a mental illness or a neurodegenerative disease, the need to improve treatment and care of such conditions is growing rapidly.
A donation of $2 million has enabled the University of Oxford to set up the Fellowship of Brain Science to support researchers tackling some of these brain health challenges. The donors wanted to help talented individuals who, having taken breaks from their research due to personal circumstances, would benefit significantly from dedicated support to pursue their research goals.
Thanks to their generosity, four fellowships have now been awarded to outstanding scientists in the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. The successful applicants demonstrated the difference the fellowship would make to their career trajectory, as well as innovation and originality in their research and leadership potential. The new fellows and the areas of research they will drive forward are:
- Dr Andrea Reinecke: treating social anxiety in young people
- Associate Professor Sana Suri: reviewing how heart and brain disease risk might be understood for different ethnicities
- Ruxandra Dafinca: using optogenetics (a way of controlling the activity of neurons using light) to learn more about the role of mitochondria (structures within cells that convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use) in patients with ALS, the most common form of motor neurone disease
- Linxin Li: understanding stroke risk in younger people
It is hoped that the new fellowships will inspire others to support science leaders of the future by enabling them to navigate the crucial, yet often precarious, early- and mid-stages of their careers.
Based in the Department of Psychiatry, Associate Professor Sana Suri is investigating the causes of ethnicity-specific cognitive health disparities in the UK. She said:
"I am delighted to be awarded the Brain Science Fellowship, which will give me four years of funding to expand my lab's research. Since launching my Heart and Brain Group three years ago, I've faced a year of pandemic-related setbacks followed by a year away for my first maternity leave. This has left me, like so many of us early- and mid-career researchers, in a very challenging position. This fellowship will give me the much-needed time to recover from these delays and career breaks while also allowing me to venture into an important and under-studied area of dementia research."
Dr Andrea Reinecke, Senior Research Fellow, said:
“I am delighted to receive this fellowship, which is both life-changing for me personally and reassuring in securing the future of our research into improved treatments for anxiety and depression in adults and adolescents. Taking time away from my career to prioritise family has been important for me, but it can also add a layer of disruption and uncertainty to research. I am really excited for my team’s research going forward as we seek to find the most effective treatments for emotional disorders. This fellowship will make an enormous difference to our ability to do that.”
Professor Belinda Lennox, Head of the Department of Psychiatry, said: "I myself benefited from an equivalent fellowship – from a scheme that no longer exists – that allowed me to spend dedicated time building up a research career after working part-time in clinical training posts. I know first-hand what a vital difference to the career paths of these individuals the fellowships will make and I am delighted that we are able to support them to continue their important work advancing our understanding of brain science and health."
Oxford’s neuroscience research is conducted across various departments based at several University sites, including the John Radcliffe and Warneford Hospitals. A number of world-leading multidisciplinary centres bring together a diverse range of expertise to target some of the most challenging disorders. Key research areas in which the University has a critical mass of multidisciplinary researchers include: cognition, dementia, chronobiology, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
For more information about making a gift or leaving a legacy to support Oxford’s neuroscience research, please contact Beatrice Smith, Senior Development Executive for Medical Sciences.