This week I attended the annual ARUK conference, in Manchester. This comprised a PhD day, followed by two days of the main conference. The PhD day included a number of talks from current PhD students on their research, as well as talks on the current work of ARUK, and useful career related information.
Feedback on ARUKs current engagement work highlighted the joined up network of dementia collaborations in the UK (more so than in most, if not all, other countries). A recent ARUK survey demonstrated that only 23% of the public recognise that dementia is driven by disease processes, so a lot of their recent engagement work is aiming to increase understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, such as their very successful recent “share the orange” campaign ( #sharetheorange). The ARUK engagement feedback was useful in emphasising the reasons that we, as researchers, should be involved in public engagement – reasons as varied as ensuring the continuation of research funding; being able to offer informed input into dementia related conversations with the public, charities and policy makers; improving overall communication skills; and potentially connecting with future collaborators. Potentially of use, ARUK offer a free “researcher toolkit” to any researchers (not just those that are ARUK funded) which contains standard pathology diagrams to use in presentations, amongst other things (just email email@example.com). Furthermore, they have a great game which involves shooting amyloid, aimed at engaging kids (http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/amyloids/#play-game).
There were a number of well presented, engaging and interesting talks and posters from PhD students. One talk that particularly caught my interest was by Claire Harwell, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge on the “Presynaptic Disruption in Organotypic Hippocampal Slice Cultures as a Model of Early and Progressive Amyloid Pathology”. In her talk, Claire Harwell presented a novel and innovative model for slice. These slice cultures combine some of the advantages of both in vivo and in vitro work, as they allow for the maintenance of cellular composition, and neuronal architecture, but with the ability to manipulate, sample and live image the slices. This is achieved through placing hippocampal slices from 7 day old mice into culture on membrane inserts – these are then able to survive for up to two months. Furthermore, this removes the problem of confounds due to inflammatory responses in acute studies. In transgenic (versus wild-type) mouse cultures, they were able to see progressive amyloid growth, associated with depletion of presynaptic proteins. No fibrillar plaques were seen, suggesting that these are not needed for synaptic disruption. This talk was especially interesting, as it relates to the work of Luca Biasetti, another 1st year PhD student in the Alzheimer’s Society Doctoral Training Centre. Luca is using the same model, but with rat brain slices.
In addition to the very interesting research that was presented, the most useful thing about the PhD day was probably being able to see the level that other PhD students were working at (at their respective PhD stages), speak with students in similar areas of research, and compare notes on the PhD process with those in more disparate fields. This was both confidence boosting, and reassuring. Generally, this was a very interesting and informative day.