In brain and mind discovery, more than 100 investigators from across the University work together, with expertise ranging across biomedical research, cognitive, social, and developmental psychology, neural sciences, visual psychophysics, social sciences, human factors, biology, rehabilitation sciences, robotics, music, literature, film, and computational neuroscience.
Derriford Research Facility, together with the biomedical laboratories in the John Bull Building, host a number of highly successful neuroscience discovery research groups with strong track record. The research teams are an interdisciplinary mix from the School of Medicine and the School of Biomedical Science. The Biomedical Research Group leads a strong neuroscience theme that encompasses a broad spectrum of neurology research. Much of their focus is disease-orientated (see 'Brain and mind translation'), and the understanding of pathological processes is supported by core investigation of fundamental mechanisms, such as cell death and regeneration.
Core topics include:
- Neural stem cell (de)regulation and brain tumour initiation, through the Claudia Barros Lab (
- Damage repair and network formation in the Central Nervous System (
- White matter connectivity (
- The molecular basis of neuron-glia communication, helping us understand the molecular basis underlying brain disorders like Alexander disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (
- Autophagy regulation and its role in Huntington’s and other neurogenerative diseases (
- Peripheral nerve development, repair and the biology of nervous system tumours (
A Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is a piece of equipment that enables users to control systems with their mind. It reads signals from the brain and harnesses them for communicating with computers, or controlling mechanical devices, such as a robotic arm, a musical instrument or a wheelchair.
The University of Plymouth is well-known for the innovative research on developing BCI for palliative care through music. The
Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research developed BCIs that enabled severely motor-impaired persons to play music and communicate emotions to each other ( Miranda, Kirke, Venkatesh).
Brain Tumour Research
Our team of researchers, led by Professor Oliver Hanemann, works closely with the charity Brain Tumour Research as one of three UK universities with a Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence.
We are leaders in the investigation of low-grade brain tumours, which are usually slow-growing and frequently affect children and young adults. Areas of specific research activity include mechanisms of tumour initiation, setting international standards for biomarker development in Neurofibromatosis, defining new drug targets in merlin-deficient brain tumours and investigating use of combination therapy through research into brain tumour micro-environment and tumour immunology.
One of the centre’s researchers,
Dr Mahmoud Labib has been focusing on the development of microfluidic platforms which can enable the single cell level analysis of billions of cells at high throughput. He is examining the use of these platforms to isolate and analyse rare circulating tumour cells and predict the response of the primary tumour to therapy. This form of liquid biopsy could provide a non-invasive diagnostic tool for cancer.
Cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging
BRIC provides a hub for interdisciplinary brain research, combining human brain imaging (including 3T fMRI) with cutting-edge neuroscience to support multi-modal human brain research. Our strengths here include:
- Neuronal networks (
- Cognitive neuropsychology (
- The neuroscience of pain (Sam Hughes)
- Neurolinguistics (
- Visual and cognitive neuroscience (
- Social and computational neuroscience (
- Perceptual neuroscience (
- Computational modelling (
- Vestibular systems and motor control (
Jonathan Marsden, Krithika Anil)
- Decision making neuroscience (
Faculty of Health researchers also collaborate in brain and mind research with colleagues in other Faculties. The Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems (CRNS) draws upon expertise from the fields of computer science, cognitive robotics and neural computation to enhance knowledge transfer between brain and computational sciences. This includes Computational Neuroscience (
Wennekers), Cognitive Robotics (Gianni) and Computational Modelling ( Howard).
The School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics is home to an applied research team in the field of Neural Signal Processing (
Ifeachor, Jammeh). This group work closely with researchers at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust to identify biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders from Neuroimaging and routine health data.
research in the School of Psychology is a long-standing strength at Plymouth. Our scientists aim to understand the mechanisms of thought, from basic associative and cognitive processes, through language and communication, to social interaction and group behaviour. They are interested in all stages of life, from infancy to old age, and examine typical and atypical function.
Particular areas of interest in cognition are the study of:
- Learning and memory (
Hollins, Mitchell, Berry, Jones, Verde, Wills)
- Spatial navigation (
- Reasoning (
- Face perception and recognition (
Hollins, Longmore, Mileva)
- Decision making (
- The representation of self (Golubickis)
- Language acquisition (
Other areas of study include:
- The mechanisms underlying prejudice (
- Humour and positive psychology (
- Cross-cultural differences in cognition (
A variety of methods are used to study these topics, including cognitive and social experimentation with human adults, immersive Virtual Reality, eye-tracking, mathematical modelling, and neuroimaging. Developmental studies also play a large role in our activities, and the BabyLab is an internationally renowned centre for research into childhood development.
Eye and Vision research
Researchers in optometry, in the School of Health Professions, form the Eye and Vision Research Group, and lead much of the University’s research into the human visual system. Scientists in the Ocular Biomechanics Research Laboratory (
H. Buckhurst, P. Buckhurst, Oehring, Papadatou) investigate the eye as a living biomechanical structure in order to understand not only how the eye performs some of its basic functions, but also as a pathway to characterise how sight-threatening conditions manifest. The core team is composed of clinicians with a specific research interest in examining the cornea and sclera in vivo and ex vivo with modern imaging (including optical coherent tomography and MRI) and modelling techniques.
Scientists in the Ocular Accommodation Research Lab conduct investigations to measure the accommodative function using different techniques and instruments (Del Aguila-Carrasco,
The Basic and Applied Visual Psychophysics Group utilise psychophysical methods, such as measuring detection/discrimination thresholds, adaption, and visual search, to study visual perception across a variety of functions. The research interests of this lab range from basic research to understand motion (Garcia Suarez,
Joshi), shape and face perception ( Schmidtmann), and peripheral vision ( Artes).
Parkinson's and related diseases
Alterations in cell surface protein signalling have been implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson disease (PD), Alzheimer disease (AD) and motor neuron diseases, but also in diseases such depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia. My research group focuses on investigating the cross-talk and function of the glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) receptors in the nervous system. In addition, we analyse the function of different intracellular proteins encoded by genes mutated or linked to PD. We study their signalling mechanisms on a molecular and cellular level as well as in rodents.
White matter inter-connects the complex human cerebral cortex. It makes up 50% of our brains and contains axons, which mediate action potential conduction, and glial cells, which support the axons. The brains of rodent models of disease contain much less white matter than does the human brain and heavy use of these models has therefore grossly under-estimated the significance of white matter pathology to human health. White matter represents a poorly understood frontier in the science of brain disease and the Fern laboratory focuses on disorders arising from loss of blood supply (ischemia) such as stroke and cerebral palsy, but white matter is relevant to almost all major neurological disorders.
Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR) draws on the excellent facilities that have been developed on our Plymouth health campus, which includes the
Derriford Research Facility, the new Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC) and the Science Park.
On the main city campus, these activities are complemented by
InterCity Place: facilities for health professions, nursing and midwifery and the School of Psychology laboratories in the Link building, which support a wide variety of techniques for measuring neural and behavioural function.