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Three Conferences in three months

Sam Knight (holder of the John Grace PhD Scholarship 2020) has had a busy few months attending conferences. His PhD title is: ‘Neural mechanisms of positive symptoms in first-episode and prodromal psychosis’ and his research is being undertaken at King’s College London. In this blog post he gives his reflections following the conferences.​ And congratulations, Sam, on your Excellence Award from the European College of Neuropharmacology.

These last few months, I’ve had the privilege of attending three distinct conferences, each offering a unique perspective on different areas of neuroscience research. From an intimate super-specific methods conference to the largest conference for Neuroscience, these experiences provided a fantastic opportunity to gain both valuable insights into my own work, sharing the work I’ve done over the course of my PhD, and for fostering future collaborations.

In August I attended the 7th International Symposium on GABA and Advanced MRS in Bergen, Norway. MRS (Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy) is a neuroimaging method that’s central to my PhD, allowing for the quantification of metabolites within a specific area. To complicate things, the metabolites I’m interested in quantifying have very low concentrations in the brain, requiring specialised methods. This conference was an opportunity to learn about these methods from the world-experts in this area, as well as get feedback on my own work (which I presented). Compared to the other conferences I’ve attended, this one is small and intimate, which allowed for meaningful connections with fellow attendees, creating an environment conducive to in-depth conversations.

Next up in September was the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ENCP) in Barcelona, Spain. Here I presented on another aspect of my PhD which attempts to bring together two other neuroimaging modalities: arterial spin labelling (ASL) and positron emission tomography (PET). ASL-derived cerebral blood flow alterations are evident in psychosis and in those at highest psychosis-risk, yet less is known about what molecular mechanisms may be underlying these changes and therefore how they may be targeted with drugs. By comparing the ASL with PET brain maps of different neurotransmitter systems, we showed specific neurotransmitter receptor densities (e.g. dopamine, NMDA) tracked the blood flow alterations, so may be helpful targets for new pharmacological interventions. With a much larger audience and more diverse presentations, this event provided a comprehensive overview of current research trends and emerging areas of interest.

Finally, in October I attended the Society for Neuroscience in Washington DC, USA; the largest Neuroscience conference in the world with over 25,000 attendees. The scale of this conference was incredible, with a poster-session room that seemed to take up almost two city blocks. The breadth of topics covered was immense, and planning was essential not to get lost in it all. Again, I presented my neurotransmitter-blood flow work, which received great attention. Though the conference was very broad, it was inspiring to see the incredible work of some of the leading neuroscientists in the world and develop insights I hope to bring to my own work.

Each of these events was a fantastic opportunity for me as an early career researcher in the final year of my PhD, providing me with both specific knowledge for my PhD and a wider sense of the field, as well as opportunities to present my work, receive feedback, and expand my network.

I would like to finish by thanking the organisations that provided funding; I was only able to attend these conferences through support from Mental Health Research UK, The Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society, and ECNP, from whom I received an Excellence Award.

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