Jennah Green, a PhD student from Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience and based at the MRC’s Centre for Macaques, is trying to develop new ways to assess the psychological wellbeing of rhesus macaques in research environments. Here she explains why it is so important to monitor monkeys’ welfare, and how improving animal welfare can lead to better science.
Macaques and a staff member at the MRC Centre for Macaques
My interest in captive primate welfare was first sparked when I became involved in the Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall. As I helped to build enrichment equipment for the rescued monkeys’ enclosures, I learnt about their varying psychological states, and was inspired to work on improving the lives of animals in captivity.
I’m now bringing my background in conservation into studying how we can use animal behaviour to interpret and assess the psychological wellbeing of these animals, particularly primates. Read more
Newcastle University’s Thomas Hall listens to the chatter between neurons to find signals which could help restore movement to people paralysed by strokes or spinal injuries. He describes his research in his commended entry for the 2014 Max Perutz Science Writing Award.
I visit Charlotte on a Saturday morning, arriving to the smell of fresh baking. After seeing her grandchildren, we head to the village hall for a surprisingly competitive monthly bake-off. But I’m not here just for tea and cake. A year ago, aged 73, Charlotte suffered a stroke, leaving her wheelchair-bound and with her right arm almost completely paralysed. One day she was working as a freelance architect; the next, she was unable to even write or dress herself.
But six months later, in 2034, Charlotte became one of around 200 patients worldwide fitted with a revolutionary new medical device called a ‘brain-computer interface’, or BCI.
Back at home, she shows me the scar on her scalp where doctors implanted thousands of microscopic electrodes in the part of her brain that controls her right arm — the part that was ‘disconnected’ by the stroke. Read more
Andrew Jackson is a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow in the Newcastle University Institute of Neuroscience. He told Katherine Nightingale about research, part-funded by the MRC, which aims to decipher the brain patterns that control arm and hand function to help paralysed people.
Like many researchers who run their own lab, Andrew Jackson doesn’t spend as much time at the bench as he’d like. But he does get to spend the odd hour or two doing one of his favourite things — listening to brain cells.
“They become like old friends,” he says. “We’ve been able to track the same neuron over days, weeks and months and you start to get to know them quite well.”
There are important reasons for getting to know neurons. Andrew and his colleagues are hoping to use the knowledge they gain from listening in on the brain to allow paralysed people to control external devices such as prosthetic arms using just their thoughts. Read more