Neuroscience 2008: Missing in action

Last year there was wild buzz about some new techniques predicted to transform biology. The Brainbow, of course, but even more the light-activated channel rhodopsins which allow you to activate or deactivate key proteins with the flash of light of particular wavelength – you could watch the consequences of opening membrane channels, for example, in a live animal. Yet close to nothing is being presented on this at this meeting.  Read more

Neuroscience 2008: New ‘epigenetic’ memory drug

Michael Ahlijanian, a vice-president of the small biotech company EnVivo, told the meeting that the company’s new compound EVP-0334 is to enter clinical trials for treating memory disorders ‘very soon’. That it has made it so far is surprising and scientifically interesting, particularly since it acts by interfering with epigenetic phenomena in the brain.  Read more

Sfn: hope in stroke

Amid the dazzling high-tech displays of new-generation brain-machine interfaces (including brain implants with which monkeys can operate robotic arms) was a less glamorous but elegantly simple study which promises to improve quality of life for stroke victims, or victims of traumatic brain injury, whose ability to balance has been obliterated.  Read more

SfN: clocking in

It seems like everyone has discovered circadian biology. Pharmacologists (disclosure – I am a pharmacologist) have always known the power of the time of day. But experimenters in other disciplines rarely take circadian rhythms into serious account. At best they may decide to test human subjects ‘in the morning’ as a sort of lip service. But morning to an early chronotype who rises to go jogging at 5 am is not the same as morning to a late chronotype who prefers to get up at 11 am.  Read more

sfn: sophistication in the brain stem

The circus of the Society of Neuroscience meeting is upon us. San Diego, with no residual smell of burning in the air. I’m milling around the cavernous conference centre – actually one of the more attractive ones of this size – with over 30,000 other delegates, wondering how to choose between the parallel sessions. But there’s a feeling of famine rather than plenty – the awareness of just how much you are missing by going to one particular session.  Read more

FENS: a bit of science

Snippets of science: Roland Strauss of the University of Wuerzburg in Germany showed his movies of mutant flies with movement disorders – and some startling six-legged robots programmed with the same movement disorders, and which he uses as a research tool. Henrick Mouritsen from the University of Oldenburg in Germany showed some really cool data on how some migratory birds use light receptors to reset their magnetic compasses to correct for the difference between magnetic north and true north. (He pointed out that molecular biology has not been tuned to the needs of those who work on birds. He would like to create a knock-out bird, but that can’t be done yet even in chickens.)  … Read more

FENS: a bit of context

We’re coming towards the end of the fifth FENS meeting inVienna. I remember the birth pains of this conference, which had the first of its now biennial meetings in Berlin in 1998. It’s nice to see that Europe can do big meetings efficiently. (It’s also rather rare.) Over 5200 scientists from 75 countries have shown up. The programme is good, of consistent high quality. And the whole thing is well-organised. The press facilities, normally a complete disaster in any European meeting, couldn’t be better. The general mood is upbeat.  Read more