Neuroscience, psychology and mental health
Neuroscience has transformed our understanding of the healthy brain and is helping lead to treatments for a wide range of problems affecting the brain and mental health. As the search for more effective therapies continues, unravelling the complexities of the brain and mind has become a multi-disciplinary enterprise. Neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry are increasingly being drawn together. At the same time new disciplines such as computational neuroscience, social and educational neuroscience, neuroeconomics, neurophilosophy and neuroethics, involving collaborations across other Schools in the University, have developed. There are strong links with many other themes and work takes place at many levels from the molecular to the whole patient. There is a thriving virtual organization, Cambridge Neuroscience, with members from the wider Cambridge area.
The study of the behaviour of neurons at the cellular and molecular level has a long and distinguished tradition in Cambridge. Work on the cellular basis of sensation, developmental neurobiology, cell signalling, ion channels, neural degeneration and repair, and more integrative aspects of nervous system function are all strong areas. Research spans a diverse spectrum from molecular signalling to neuroendocrinology to sensory and motor systems, with techniques used ranging from biochemical, single-cell recording and behavioural studies to large-scale computational methods. There are particular strengths in research on synaptic transmission, local network properties and sensory transduction. Molecular studies are linked to the structural and molecular cell biology theme.
Computational, theoretical and systems neuroscience has been a recent focus of development for the neuroscience community. Computational neuroscience is an important research strategy of the Cambridge Computational Biology Institute. There are also particular strengths in experimental approaches in this area across a range of departments, including the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and the Department of Engineering. Systems neuroscience is increasingly dependent on theory to describe and analyse complex systems, and is also beginning to take an evolutionary approach. There are growing developments linked to the functional genomics, systems biology and genetic medicine theme.
There are a number of groups working on the neural and neurochemical basis of cognitive and emotional behaviour in humans and other species, including studies of stress, anxiety, depression and language. This includes the examination of morphological deficits and genetic polymorphisms. The neural systems involved in drug seeking, the reward system and reinforcement are also an important focus of research, as are the mechanisms of decision making. These areas, together with studies of the neural basis of learning, memory and perception, are the subject of techniques ranging from neuroimaging to computational modelling. There are thus close ties with medical imaging, which is of enormous importance also in other areas of clinical neuroscience and psychiatry.
Psychology includes the study of many non-disease states. These include the development and evolution of cognition, from theory of mind to episodic memory and future planning. Much of the work is conducted on birds but extends to young children. This work has important impilications for animal welfare, including the idea of cognitive enrichment. Others are exploring the interface between perceptual identification and visual memory, via a combination of psychological, computational modelling and neural approaches. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that affect human perception are being researched. Hearing research includes peripheral hearing mechanisms, in both humans and guinea-pigs; the optimal design of cochlea transplants; auditory perceptual capacities in autism and speech perception. Language research covers fundamental aspects of semantic processing, the neural substrates of language processing, how language functioning is affected by ageing and the nature and manipulation of different representations of language in normal subjects and patients with brain damage.
Clinical neuroscience research includes both human and animal subjects. There is a strong emphasis on conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, Huntington's Disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain injury, autism, schizophrenia and depression. Other conditions studied include substance abuse, ADHD, OCD, mania, memory and sleep disorders. The new department of Clinical Neurosciences encompasses units specializing in brain imaging, brain repair, neurology and neurosurgery. In psychiatry there are also studies of well-being and several areas have strongs ties with the epidemiology and public health theme as they are concerned with work on large populations.