Two members of the Rusted lab group, Simon Evans and Claire Lancaster, visited Brazil for a week this April. Sounds like a holiday, but this trip was part of a specially formed scheme to encourage international research collaborations, funded by Santander Mobility Grants scheme.
The trip centred around a visit to Sao Paulo, hosted by Sabine Pompeia, an associate Professor of Psychobiology at the Federal University of Sao Paulo. We were welcomed by her lab group on the Monday and the first thing that struck us was their enthusiasm for research. Many excellent talks were delivered during our visit, but the work of three researchers stood out in terms of the exciting opportunities present for future international collaboration.
Fifteen years previously, Sabine had spent time working in the Rusted lab in Sussex. Her current research is concerned with developing tasks that explore executive functioning – our capacity to multi-task. Although much of her research has applied this battery to specific populations, she has also been involved in large Brazilian epidemiological studies. As part of future joint work between the Rusted and Pompeia groups, we hope to explore the role of the APOE gene, a genetic risk factor for dementia, on executive function at different stages of development.
We were also introduced to Andre Negrao, a clinical academic from the Genetic and Molecular Cardiology lab. Andre is currently researching the genetic, biological and cognitive profile of the population of Baependi, a town of 18,000 in south-east Brazil. This town is of interest due to the mix of urban and rural people living there, and the diverse range of educational and SES backgrounds. In the future, we hope to work with Andre and his team combining our joint interests in genetic differences in brain structure and function , and cognition.
Future collaborations with Monica Yassuda are also in the pipeline. Monica is a practicing neuropsychiatrist and academic at the University of Sao Paulo, typically working with more elderly populations, especially those with MCI.
One of the most important things we took away from our time in Sao Paulo was the problem administering tasks cross-culturally. Measures well-established in one country may not necessarily be suitable for administration in others. For example, using the word ‘snow’ as a stimuli in a language-based task is not so simple as it sounds. In some countries snow is a very common word, in others it is rarely used. Brazil is a country with a diverse profile of socio-economic and educational backgrounds, and as such cognitive tests need to be designed to suit varying rates of literacy. A major focus within the lab group we visited was modifying cognitive tasks for use in Brazil, thinking of clever adaptations to make them free of reading and writing requirements and accessible for all. These are important considerations for us to bear in mind when designing future collaborations.
But the trip was a wonderful insight into the culture of another country and we would like to thank our wonderful host Sabine for taking us round the city, and her team for welcoming us to the University. We would also like to thank Santander for the opportunity their funds provided, and Dr Paul Roberts at the Doctoral School for supporting the application.