Meet Our Team

Current Team Members

The Brain Domain Team is made up of six neuroscience postgraduate students from Cardiff University. Below is a brief profile of each member alongside our answers to four broad neuroscience questions to get to know more about us.
(A list of past members can be found at the bottom of the page)

 

Uroosa Chughtai (Oct 2020 – Present)

I completed my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science at Imperial College London where I first became interested in all things neuroscience. Wanting to gain hands-on research experience, I then accepted a research assistant position at the University of Oxford. Here I worked as a research assistant position on an industrial collaborative project using induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neuronal models to advance drug development for Parkinson’s disease.
Now a PhD student in the Dementia Research Institute here at Cardiff University, my research focuses on using cellular models to investigate the role of an ALS/FTD risk gene in microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain. My broader research interests focus on all things neurodegeneration, particularly figuring out the nitty-gritty of how and why our brain cells dysfunction and degenerate.
If I’m not in the lab looking after my cells or furiously moving small amounts of liquids from one tube to another, I’ll be climbing at Boulders or watching a trashy TV show.

Uroosa’s Responses:

What’s your favourite region of the brain?

The brainstem, because let’s face it, you can’t live without it.

Which neuroscience myth really grinds your gears?

That men and women have fundamentally different brains. There’s no substantial evidence for this!

What’s the most interesting question in neuroscience right now?

How do neurons actually encode information? We know that neurons fire electrical impulses, but how does this translate to our memories?

Where will neuroscience be in 100 years time?

Fully functioning artificial human brains.

Matt Higgs (Oct 2020 – Present)

Originally hailing from Essex, minus the accent (fortunately), I began my academic journey acquiring a BSc in Biomedical Science from the University of Warwick. The neuroscience in my BSc sparked an interest and an MSc in Psychology at the University of Nottingham was my next calling.
I have now happily married my two previous degrees completing a PhD in neuroscience here at Cardiff University. I am heading into my penultimate Ph.D. year researching a set of genes called the imprinted genes and the role they play in the neural circuitry controlling parenting behaviour. My broader research interests centre around instinctual behaviours and the role evolution has had in shaping our brains and minds.
When not sitting in a dark room writing code for my experiments or spending time with the people I love (namely my cat), I am probably at the gym or reading a non-fiction book and nursing a whiskey; pretending to be the sophisticated gentleman I will almost certainly never become.

Matt’s Responses:

What’s your favourite region of the brain?

Hypothalamus – the home of hormones and instinctual behaviour

Which neuroscience myth really grinds your gears?

We see the world as it is. Not even close mate, our brains are pattern searchers, taking what we see and using expectation and experience to build a representation of the world … and a shoddy, biased one at that.

What’s the most interesting question in neuroscience right now?

Why did conscious experience evolve? Or slightly less meta – Why do we dream?

Where will neuroscience be in 100 years time?

Not being done by humans, that’s for sure!

Peter Richardson (Oct 2020 – Present)

I began as a humble undergraduate student studying psychology at the University of Chester. After realising the passion I had for biopsychology, I pursued a Master’s degree at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Within a year, I began to look into the fascinating and complicated world of immunology and to my delight saw that Neuro-immunology is now one of the more “in” fields to be involved in. To get some experience working in a real non-teaching lab I did an internship at the institute for infectious diseases at the University of Bern, looking at Listeria meningitis and how a genetic change can influence the phenotype of the bacteria.
I was given the opportunity to study for a PhD at Cardiff University on the Wellcome Trust programme and after some interesting rotations, I decided to spend my next few years looking at the effects of early-life stress on fear memory. The immune system is often involved in controlling memory and so my project is looking at the fascinating interaction between stress, our immune systems and memory formations. My research involves an animal model but also a lot of computational work, in which I am constantly trying to figure out ways to automate my work making analyses that are less biased but also letting the computer do all the heavy lifting.
On the rare occasions that I am not tearing my hair out trying to fix my own buggy code, or upsetting my sleep cycle by spending hours imaging cells one by one in the dark, I tend to dedicate my time to playing piano and guitar, acquiring houseplants (many many houseplants) and drinking craft beer.

Peter’s Responses:

What’s your favourite region of the brain?

The Hippocampus – vital for forming memories and easily the most interesting shaped brain region (just like a seahorse, which gives this otherwise pretty lame fish, a claim to fame).

Which neuroscience myth really grinds your gears?

That brains are ONLY made up of neurons and these are simple on off switches. Neurons, while either firing or not firing, are kind of on/off switches but they are also regulated by the glia around them telling them when they can and can’t fire. There are plenty of other mechanisms, like hormones, immune-modulatory chemical pathways and inhibitory cell networks that make even the simplest of cognitive tasks require a carefully orchestrated procedure. Some people buy into the myth we could transfer the conscious mind into a computer. This doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

What’s the most interesting question in neuroscience right now?

If neurons are just on off switches and our brain is made up of these on off switches how much of our brain could we replace with digital on off switches? Could I replace 80% with a computer? Would I be that computer then?

Where will neuroscience be in 100 years time?

Perhaps we will all be the on off switches that I said before? Maybe we will have the capability to upload a whole consciousness to the cloud, supercharge our memory and develop true AI. We probably still won’t have figured out an alternative to using western blots though.

Steliana Yanakieva (Oct 2020 – Present)

Steliana

After completing my BSc in Psychology at the University of Greenwich, I wanted to pursue a clinical career, specialising in memory disorders. I spent a few years working with psychiatric patients before completing an MSc in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience at Goldsmith’s, University of London. During my MSc I got involved in psychedelic research, which deepened my interest in behavioural neuroscience. After getting entangled in my research, I figured I would miss the lab too much if I left and decided to pursue a career in science instead.
I moved to Cardiff to complete a PhD in Integrative Neuroscience and have now found my new home in the Behavioural Neuroscience Lab, where I am studying the neurobiological basis of memory. My broader research interests are the neural basis of time perception and psychopharmacology. If I am not in the lab testing the memory of my rats, I am either polishing my Krav Maga skills, screaming at a barbell in the gym or running around the kitchen planning my next meal.

Steliana’s Responses:

What’s your favourite region of the brain?

The retrosplenial cortex. Its anatomy varies in size and structure across species and it seems to be a key region for memory, however, no one quite knows exactly what it does.

Which neuroscience myth really grinds your gears?

That we do not use a 100% of our brains. When somebody asks me if it is true, I usually reply with “Let me perform a lobotomy and we will see how you get on” :).

What’s the most interesting question in neuroscience right now?

“What is it like to be a bat?” – The hard problem of consciousness

Where will neuroscience be in 100 years time?

Digital copies of people – something like the Black Mirror episode “The Entire History of You”. We will be able to implant hard drives in the brain that records all our memories and everything we have ever seen, giving us real photographic memory. Every single action, thought, and event will be recorded and played back, creating a digital copy of you. Similarly, to a portable memory stick, this hard drive could be implanted in another human after death, giving them access to all our knowledge and memories. Too much Scifi? If not in a 100 years, it will definitely be possible in a 1000 years.

Ian Fox (Nov 2020 – Present)

I originally hail from Cheshire – one of England’s most ancient counties and home to the best cheese in the world. My father was a historian, and when I was growing up we would often visit the many historical and sacred places around the county. Everyone expected that I would study history at university, but it wasn’t until I finished my A levels – especially in psychology – that I developed a keen interest in science and how the brain works.
I thus began my academic journey at Bangor University, where I completed my BSc in Neuropsychology in 2017. While I was studying at Bangor, I got my first opportunity to study some basic neurobiology, and I quickly realised that there are two broad approaches to studying the brain – the molecular world and the psychological world. I opted to focus on the molecular world, and so I moved to the University of Sheffield where I completed my MSc in Translational Neuroscience in 2018.
After my MSc I was awarded the opportunity to study for a Ph.D. at Cardiff University on the Integrative Neuroscience programme, supported by the Wellcome Trust. It was only after completing a lab rotation at the School of Biosciences that I realised that in order to understand how the brain truly works, we must first understand how it is created. I have thus committed the next few years to look at how neurons are born in the cortex (called ‘cortical neurogenesis’) and the role that adhesive proteins play in orchestrating this amazing phenomenon.
When I’m not in the lab, I am usually at the gym, or reading books, or listening to music. I also enjoy going for long walks and discovering new areas of the city and finding areas of natural beauty.

Ian’s Responses:

What’s your favourite region of the brain?

The cerebral cortex. It is the seat of higher cognitive thought and motor function. Essentially, it is the part of the brain that makes us human.

Which neuroscience myth really grinds your gears?

That we only use 10% of our brain. Absolutely ridiculous – why would the human race possess such a complex organ as the brain, only for us to use 10% of it, and then the other 90% is somehow ‘locked off’?

What’s the most interesting question in neuroscience right now?

How can the brain, in all its complexity and brilliance, arise from a seemingly uniform population of mother stem cells? Is it all just random chemical and molecular chaos? Or is it determined by a set of principles that we have yet to understand?

Where will neuroscience be in 100 years time?

Hard to say, but it is likely that the biological component of neuroscience will be undermined. I believe that eventually, molecular biology won’t be able to answer the questions that we have about the brain. Instead, neuroscience will adapt into a more computational/engineering/physics field. Neuroscience in 100 years will hardly resemble what it is now.

Katie Sedgwick (Dec 2020 – Present)

steve

I was born in the South, raised in the West Midlands but migrated to Cardiff in 2014. Cardiff has been my home for both my Undergraduate Psychology course and now my Psychological Neuroscience PhD, a city I initially came to on a very wet day- how could I not fall in love with this city?

Initially, I was determined to be a Psychiatrist but had my dreams dashed by messing up my final Biology exam making the majority of Med schools glare at me and my B in disgust. Honestly, this was a blessing in disguise as I was forced to take a year out and decide what I really wanted to do. My glamorous gap year was spent in the exotic location of a Wetherspoons kitchen where I learned that this was bloody hard work that I was definitely no good at! Instead, studying Psychology was what I was really passionate about and, during my UG course, discovered that I just really like brains. Brains are great y’know … Now I reside in my second year of PhD studying the link between depression and Alzheimer’s disease using animal models. My main interests are the inflammatory hypothesis of depression and the interplay between emotion, the physical body and inflammation. Inflammation is cool. Brains are cool. Inflammation in the brain is also bloody rad!

When I am not dealing with mice and their brains, I am weightlifting with a keen interest in improving form and understanding the science behind protein synthesis and diet. I do enjoy a good book and love walking but the majority of my free time is spent with my loving boyfriend, Elliot. Together, we devour all things Star Wars alongside other Sci-Fi and Superhero media. Honestly, my favourite place to be is sitting on the sofa with him drinking coffee and watching something on TV.

Katie’s Responses:

What’s your favourite region of the brain?

I may be biased here but I am loving the Locus Coeruleus. ‘What is that?’ I hear you cry. It is your brain’s main source of noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that is heavily involved in the stress response and emotional processing… keenly depression. It also happens to be a large focal area in my PhD…

Which neuroscience myth really grinds your gears?

The Triune brain model is outdated. It states the brain can be separated into a ‘lizard’ or basic instincts part, a ‘limbic’ or emotion part and the ‘human’ or greater consciousness and language part. Using it to help you understand the basics is fine but remember that the brain is faaaaaar more complicated than that! For example, we don’t simply eat for fuel any more which is what occurs in the ‘lizard’ part. Our limbic part comes in to say “I WANT TO EAT BREAD BECAUSE IT’S DELICIOUS AND I WILL GIVE MUCH DOPAMINE IF YOU GIVE ME BREAD!” while our conscious ‘human’ part may be aware that we are not hungry, we are just bored and bread is probably not what the body needs at 2am. Just remember that the brain is far more complicated than that.

What’s the most interesting question in neuroscience right now?

What role does inflammation play in the causation and progression of so many illnesses?

Where will neuroscience be in 100 years time?

Hopefully we have progressed in some form or another. We may still be asking similar questions but hopefully with better equipment.

Past Team Members

  • Oly Bartley (June 2015 – May 2018)
  • Kira Rienecker (June 2015 – May 2018)
  • Rachael Stickland (June 2015 – May 2018)
  • Jonathan Fagg (June 2015 – May 2018)
  • Rae Pass (June 2015 – May 2018)
  • Aurelien Bunga (June 2015 – Sept 2017)
  • Ellen Cross (June 2015 – Sept 2017)
  • Monika śledziowska  (July 2017 – Oct 2020)
  • Laura Smith (July 2017 – Oct 2020)
  • Chiara Casella (Sept 2017 – Oct 2020)
  • Sophie Waldron (April 2018 – Oct 2020)
  • Samuel Berry (June 2018 – Oct 2020)
  • Lucy Lewis (July 2018 – Oct 2020)
  • Josh Stevenson-Hoare (Aug 2018 – Oct 2020)
  • Lauren Revie (Oct 2018 – Oct 2020)