Taking memory research to Parliament

NC3Rs PhD student Kamar Ameen-Ali takes us on a trip to the House of Commons SET for BRITAIN event.

NC3Rs-funded PhD student Kamar Ameen-Ali, Department of Psychology, Durham University, takes us on a trip to the House of Commons SET for BRITAIN event, where she presented her research recently to MPs and VIPs.

Kam Ameen-Ali presents her poster on improving rodent memory research methodology at this year’s SET for BRITAIN event.

Many tests of memory use large numbers of animals to provide enough data for analysis. My neuroscience PhD involves developing a new reliable methodology for testing complex forms of memory in rats, studies performed normally in non-human primates, and used to inform researchers of memory function in the human brain.

My research uses a new continual trials apparatus, developed at Durham University, and allows for multiple trials within one session. This reduces stress associated with handling the animals and uses less than a third of the number of rats usually required for tests of this type.

On March 18th I presented this work in the final of the Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) for BRITAIN 2013 event held in the House of Commons during National Science & Engineering Week. This is an annual series of poster exhibitions and competitions for Britain’s early-stage and early-career scientists, engineers and technologists. Originally pioneered by the late Dr Eric Wharton, it has more recently been developed by Mr Andrew Miller MP and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee alongside the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Society of Biology.

The event aims to foster engagement between early-stage scientists and members of Parliament, while also presenting the opportunity to compete for a number of prestigious prizes.

Along with other bioscientists, I was short-listed from hundreds of applications across the UK to present to an audience of MPs and an expert panel of judges in the biological and biomedical sciences exhibition that was held in the evening.

Upon arrival at Westminster, I entered through airport-style security and could already feel the excitement amongst the attendees as we were keen to speak to each other about the research we would be presenting. We were led through the magnificent Westminster Hall and a maze of corridors before reaching the Terrace Marquee – the stage for this year’s event.

Palace of Westminster, London. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Palace of Westminster, London. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The event was a lot more intimate than I had imagined, and gave me a great opportunity to adopt a different presenting style to suit the unique audience. With the recent implementation of the new European Directive on animals used for scientific purposes, the 3Rs principles are more relevant than ever so I was pleased to find many people interested in how my research uses new paradigms to explore important scientific questions and how this is facilitated by being mindful of the 3Rs.

At the end of the evening bronze, silver and gold awards were presented along with the Westminster medal for the overall SET for BRITAIN 2013 winner. I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to contribute to an event that was very different to a typical scientific conference.

The next stage of my research is to look at recognition memory in multiple areas of the rat brain using immediate-early gene imaging that allows us to analyse relative neuronal activity. I then aim to validate existing models of animal memory with analogous human tasks. This work is important for the development of appropriate treatments and rehabilitation programmes for memory impairments resulting from brain injury or disease.

Kam’s work is supervised by Dr Alexander Easton and Professor Madeline Eacott of the Department of Psychology, Durham University, and funded by the NC3Rs. Her latest research paper, the first to be published by an NC3Rs PhD student, can be downloaded here.

Ameen-Ali, K., Eacott, M., & Easton, A. (2012). A new behavioural apparatus to reduce animal numbers in multiple types of spontaneous object recognition paradigms in rats Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 211 (1), 66-76 DOI: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2012.08.006

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