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£1.57million for research into learning and memory

Press release issued: 21 May 2009

Research at the Universities of Bristol and Cardiff into learning and memory has been given a significant boost with a recent Programme Grant award of £1.57 million from the Wellcome Trust.

The joint award has been made to Professor Zafar Bashir, Professor Malcolm Brown and Dr Clea Warburton, from Bristol University’s Department of Anatomy, in collaboration with Professor John Aggleton and Professor John Pearce from the Department of Psychology at Cardiff University.  This award continues a highly successful collaboration between these researchers from Bristol Neuroscience and Cardiff Neurosciences Centre

The research is concerned with understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms which underlie the formation of two vital classes of memory – episodic memory, which allows recall of events in your own life, and recognition memory, which allows us to judge whether something is new or familiar. 

Dr Warburton said: “Understanding how different brain structures cooperate in producing complex memories will help provide a more accurate picture of the neurobiology of memory.”

Previous work by this research group who are members of the MRC Centre for Synaptic Plasticity, has shown that within the temporal lobe of the brain are two neural systems, one centred on the hippocampus and one on the perirhinal cortex, which can work independently to support episodic and recognition memory respectively.  However, it is now becoming increasingly clear that in some instances these two systems may interact.  The joint failure of episodic and recognition memory, as in Alzheimer’s disease or Mild Cognitive Impairment, is devastating for the individual and a major burden for both their carers and society. 

Professor Bashir said: “This work will highlight more completely the range of structures that when damaged can contribute to memory loss in disease, or could provide potential therapeutic targets.”

Professor Aggleton said: “The award is extremely exciting as it allows us to examine the central mechanisms in the brain that are responsible for our day-to-day memories.  It is this same class of memories that make us individually what we are, and at the same time are so vulnerable in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.  Because of the importance of understanding how these memories are formed and lost we are combining expertise across the two Universities to ensure that we can deliver world-leading research.”

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK.  It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas.  The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

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