The Brain Energy Lab: connecting and collaborating is fundamental to everything we do

By Catherine Hall

The theme for this year’s British Science Week is connections and we thought it would be a good opportunity to ask one of our psychology lecturers, Dr Catherine Hall to tell us some of the reasons why connections and collaborations are so important to research success.

Since my days as a PhD student, the thing I have found most exciting about science is the way that your experimental results continually change the way you understand the world,  throwing open ever more questions that you need to answer in order to find out if you are right to think that way! I love that these questions often need new experiments, and often new methods that you haven’t done before, but there is always someone you can work with to learn how to do that. Conversely there are also often people who want to learn how to do something you can do to answer their own questions. Science is truly a team effort, and every single thing we do requires a collaborative effort to achieve success.

members of the Brain Energy lab looking happy together sitting around a restaurant table
The Brain Energy Lab on a collaborative outing.

In my research group – the Brain Energy Lab – we are interested in how the brain controls its energy supply and how reductions in energy supplied to the brain might precipitate Alzheimer’s Disease. Our research sits at the interface of many fields – incorporating neuroscience, psychology, biochemistry and cardiovascular physiology, using specialised equipment and reagents developed by physicists and chemists.  We are always learning from people in these different fields, within the University of Sussex, and externally, to develop new approaches and explore new questions. To explore just a few of these connections, during COVID-19, we were able to connect with colleagues in Life Sciences (Ed Wright, Louise Serpell) to learn how risk factors for severe COVID19 disease affect infection of vascular cells with SARS CoV-2. We’ve worked with Sussex Neuroscience Research Bioengineer Andre Maia Chagas to harness open access machine learning methods to track mouse behaviour. Externally we study novel populations of hippocampal neurons with Caswell Barry at UCL, and various properties of cells and tissue during hypoxia with Mariana Vargas Caballero at Southampton, Nicola Hamilton Whitaker at Kings College London and Melissa Scholefield at the University of Manchester.  We’ve hosted visiting researchers from the University of North Caroline investigating striatal neurovascular relationships, and provided data for modelling studies investigating properties of cerebral autoregulation. As does every other scientist, we sit within a web of connections that facilitates and inspires our research and hopefully also that of our collaborators! It’s stimulating, exciting and a large part of what makes this such a great career!

Catherine Hall

Catherine Hall is a lecturer in the School of Psychology and principal researcher for the Brain Energy Lab at the University of Sussex. You can find out more about Catherine’s work from her Sussex profile and the Brain Energy Lab website.

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