An alternative night at the museum
On the evening of Wednesday 26th February, members and associates of the Thuret lab participated in a record breaking public engagement event as nearly 7000 enthusiastic persons flocked to the Science Museum for an evening of intriguing and tipsy shenanigans. The event formed part of the monthly ‘Lates’ programme at the Museum, dubbed ‘drinking and thinking’, or more formally, an initiative conceived to make science more fun, accessible and engaging for the general public. For this particular Late, the Science Museum collaborated with the Francis Crick Institute for one night only.
Galvanised by the recent study providing irrefutable existence of adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) in humans, our lab wished to draw attention to a rather fascinating aspect of AHN that has come to light from studies using mammalian models, namely, its sensitivity to environmental modulation. To help us in this mission, we conceived the ‘neurogenesis cocktail’, giving the opportunity to attendees to help make (using a cycle smoothie maker!) and importantly share our tasty pro-neurogenic concoction, which comprised of several ingredients that have been shown to increase neurogenesis and cognitive performance in animal studies. Our main message was thus, given that we now know AHN occurs in the human brain, we think there is tremendous potential for diet to boost brain power and improve mental health through the medium of enhanced neurogenesis. Indeed, one of the main focuses of our lab is to elucidate the cellular and molecular events underlying this relationship.
Our workshop proved incredibly popular on the night, for 3 whirlwind hours each of the participating researchers in our lab demonstrated buckets of stamina as we were kept on our toes by a constant stream of people - with estimates close to a 1000! The audience ranged from young history students, mathematics PhD students, first dates and married couples as well as a good healthy showing from individuals whose attendance was perhaps facilitated by a freedom pass. It was a really rewarding experience as these people reacted extremely positively to our workshop – it transpires that the subject of the birth of new brain cells and what you can do to increase this process is quite the engaging subject.
Notably, the event served as an important reminder for us as researchers of the need to contextualise our work, framing what we do on a day to day basis in context of basic and translational science. Indeed, it is genuinely satisfying to receive such interest in one’s own work and a timely reminder that whilst much of our working life is spent immersed in esoteric signalling pathways, genes of interest and sophisticated statistical analysis – this will always be immensely intriguing to a wider audience and we are privileged to be able to do work that we do.
By Tytus Murphy and Ksenia Musaelyan
The researchers participating in these shenanigans include: Alessandra Borsini, Andrea du Perez, Dr. Aleksandra Maruszak, Dr. Gisele Dias, Philippa Evans, Dr. Mark Horowitz, Tytus Murphy, Adna Dumitrescu, Matthew Gartry, Simon Thompson, Timothy Powell, Ksenia Musaelyan and Dr. Sandrine Thuret.
How to live longer – the experts' guide to ageing: Sandrine was interviewed by The Observer with other experts studying the ageing process to explain how diet can lead to a longer life, better memory and mood.
Eating your way to happiness! In BBC News, Sandrine commented on the impact of certain foods on neurogenesis and the relationship between food and mood.
The Observer featured an article on the Science of Food and Mood. This is part of a collaboration with the Observer and the Wellcome trust to produce a special series of events exploring the connections between food, health and life. In this article, the public can appreciate the role diet can play on mental health, as scientists around the world were interviewed to explain their findings. Doris explained in the article how her research has lead to a direct link between diet and the generation of new brain cells and their impact on mood (October 2011).
Sandrine and her team have also appeared in Heston Blumenthal’s Mission Impossible ’Submarine’ episode. The programme was first aired in Spring 2011, on Channel 4. Heston Blumenthal boards the nuclear-powered Royal Navy sub, HMS Turbulent, to shake up the sailors’ food. It’s not long before Heston realises he’s got a big job on his hands: the men are out on patrol for 90 days at a time, and they’re eating three stodgy meals a day. And with so little opportunity for exercise on board, it’s not a healthy diet - especially when the submariners’ jobs require very high levels of concentration. But how is Heston going to change it? Heston researches the effects of food on the brain. After a visit in the our lab, he gets inspired to develop recipes with brain enhancing ingredients - blueberries, mackerel and dark chocolate (ohhhh?!). Will Heston be able to persuade the Captain of HMS Turbulent to take up his recipes on board? You’d better watch!!
Interview of Sandrine on the role of nutrition on cognition at the Congress of Nutrition and Health in Brussels, Belgium (2010). In French!!!! or in Dutch and English