BNA Prize Winners 2018 Announced!

17th Dec 2018

Each year, the BNA awards prizes to students and researchers to acknowledge their amazing work and contribution to neuroscience. We are delighted to congratulate this year's winners:

Outstanding Contribution to Neuroscience 2018: Irene Tracey, University of Oxford

Irene has been given this award for her work in pain research, which has greatly improved our understanding of pain perception, pain relief, nociceptive processing and anaesthesia, and for contributions to the scientific communitee as part of various committees and as a promotor for women in science.

Public Engagement of Neuroscience 2018: Emma Yhnell, Cardiff University

Emma has raised awareness for rare diseases such as Huntington's and neuroscience through her role as an ambassador for STEM and Speakezee, serving in several local public engagement committees and by helping undergraduate and postgraduate students. She has successfully inspired children using interactive media and audience participation to explain complex biological concepts, making them enthusiastic for careers in STEM.

Postgraduate Award 2018: Delia Fuhrmann, University of Cambridge

Delia has been awarded this prize for her amazing work during her PhD, which includes producing multiple papers on adolescent development, learning and plasticity and teaching Statistics at an undergraduate and postgraduate level as a Demonstrator in the UCL Psychology Department.

Undergraduate Award 2018: Rachel Conys, University of Leeds

Rachel has shown great commitment to neuroscience by her work as an editor of the British Neuroscience Association newsletter and the presentation of her research at three conferences, while also graduating top of her class.


Outstanding Contribution to Neuroscience 2018: Irene Tracey, University of Oxford

Irene Tracey currently holds the Nuffield Chair of Anaesthetic Science and is Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences (NDCN) at the University of Oxford.

She is a world-class neuroscientist, who has contributed to a better understanding of pain perception, pain relief and nociceptive processing within the injured and non-injured human CNS using advanced neuroimaging techniques. She is recognised as one of the pioneers in this area of neuroscience and her active translational research has undoubtedly had significant impacts for healthcare, industry and in supporting drug discovery. More recently, her work has also initiated significant debate within the legal system which is likely to have far reaching consequences. Her work has been recognised by the award of the triennial Patrick Wall Medal from the Royal College of Anaesthetists (2008) and in 2009 she was made a FRCA in recognition of the clinical impact of her work and contributions to the discipline of anaesthetic science. In 2015 she was made a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Irene’s career has centred on the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging to the study of pain. For the first time this has enabled the capture of quantifiable, objective data of the experience of pain and laid the foundations to transform its diagnosis and treatment.

A key achievement of Irene’s life’s work has been the development of a “cerebral signature of pain”. This has led to a step change in our understanding, not only of the brain regions involved in the sensation of pain; but also the anticipation of pain and its modulation by other brain regions. In addition, her research has led to a fundamental shift in our understanding of chronic pain, a particularly challenging area, and offering the prospect of improved treatment outcomes.

More recently, her research has provided insight into the neural bases of altered states of consciousness induced by anaesthetic agents, identifying novel and highly individualised markers indicating when subjects lose perception. Her team have pioneered the development of novel paradigms and methods for understanding pain mechanisms in humans, including spinal cord imaging, imaging tonic neural states and pharmacological imaging.

The results of Irene’s research have been embraced by the pharmaceutical industry. Drug development in this area has been severely hampered by the subjective nature of traditional pain ratings. This has likely led to the cancellation of potentially successful new compounds. The ability to measure drug efficacy against an objective target will greatly increase the efficiency and success of drug development programmes.

In 1997, Irene co-founded Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain. Under her directorship this has gone on to become recognised as one of the world’s leading neuroimaging laboratories. The Centre’s achievements not only include integrating neurological and neuroscientific research with state of the art neuroimaging physics and data analysis but also championing the training of a new generation of neuroscientists.

Alongside senior leadership roles within the University (Associate Head of the Medical Sciences Division, Pro-Vice Chancellor), Irene has also contributed to neuroscience research policy through her membership of the MRC Neuroscience Mental Health Board (2009-2014) and REF2014. She currently serves on the Council of the MRC. Irene has also served and continues to serve on the committees of national and international learned bodies including; the International Association for the Study of Pain, the British Neuroscience Association and the Lundbeck Brain Prize Committee.

Importantly Irene is a passionate advocate for women in science, has always been extremely supportive of young researchers, not just women, and has always done everything to help advance their careers. During her time at NDCN she introduced many new initiatives around staff development and work life balance including a carer’s career fund.

Finally, Irene has a huge international reputation, has featured widely in the media, been dubbed ‘The Queen of Pain’ and is a wonderful ambassador for British neuroscience around the world.


Public Engagement of Neuroscience 2018: Emma Yhnell, Cardiff University

Dr Emma Yhnell is currently a Health and Care Research Wales Fellow at Cardiff University, pioneering novel research to investigate how computer-based brain training could help relieve symptoms in people with Huntington’s disease. Despite her busy research career which started with a BSc in Biochemistry in 2012 and her PhD in 2012. Although the number of women in STEM careers are outnumbered by men at 8:1, Emma has shown to be a true role model for women in STEM by securing highly competitive research funding soon after completing her PhD.

Emma’s recent work involves working with patients with Huntington’s disease and their families, which has given her a unique perspective on public engagement and promoting equality. Huntington’s disease is a rare brain disorder which affects many aspects of daily life, but one which receives little media attention and is poorly understood by the public. From this, Emma has developed a passion for engaging the public with her research, in order to improve awareness of rare diseases such as Huntington’s. Consequently she sits on several local public engagement committees such as the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Public Engagement Committee, has given over 30 public engagement talks ranging from school pupils to patients, and is an ambassador for both STEM and Speakezee.

Alongside her scientific work, Emma is involved in educational research to investigate how early qualifications affect performance in higher education. Paired with this, she has a developing track record of teaching and supervising undergraduate students.

Progressing from an undergraduate student to clinical research fellow within four years has posed many significant challenges. During her PhD, Emma’s work focused on an animal model of the disease that she would later go on to work with in patients. To overcome this, Emma sought to obtain formal accreditation of the skills she had learnt and successfully studied for a Postgraduate Certificate in Clinical Trials at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Emma has been invited to speak in front of patients and families at the Ireland Huntington’s Disease Associate Family Meeting and well as European and Global Huntington’s disease meetings.

Emma primarily inspires others – both the public and fellow researchers – by working to change the perception of a ‘typical scientist’. Through her engagement work, such as organising the Cardiff Brain Games and other public science events, she wants to inspire people, particularly early career researchers, women and children, that science can be fun, exciting, and lead to successful careers. In recognition of her work to inspire women in STEM she was awarded runner-up in the prestigious Chwarae Teg Womenspire awards 2017 in the category of ‘Rising Star’. As well as presenting her work at conferences for the scientific community, Emma has been involved in BBC radio interviews, written prize-winning articles, and talked to parliament about her research – all in the name of public engagement. In the age of technology, Emma also maintains a strong social media presence to make her research more accessible to others. Last year she was selected as one of Cardiff University’s Engagement Champions and Innovators, producing a YouTube video about her work with the public, and regularly posts about her research on her Twitter feed (@EmmaYhnell).

In 2018 Emma was invited to speak at the International Hay Festival and rather than giving a typical scientific talk, Emma used a variety of interactive media and audience participation activities to communicate complex biological concepts. For example, children were invited on stage and turned into DNA by creating ‘sugar back bones’ which held stacks of nucleotides to represent the trinucleotide expansion that causes Huntington’s disease.

This novel approach was seen as a huge success, even resulting in a child talking to Emma after her talk about career options within STEM. Following this she was awarded the prestigious Charles Darwin Lecture at the 2018 British Science Festival. Previous winners of these awards have included the astrophysicist Professor Brian Cox, space science and science educator Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology and author Richard Wiseman. Emma’s numerous public engagement ventures, which are growing in both number and prestige highlight her dedication, hard work, commitment and enthusiasm for engaging and continuing to engage diverse communities in neuroscience research.


Postgraduate Award 2018: Delia Fuhrmann, University of Cambridge

Delia graduated with a 1st class honours degree from the University of St Andrews and was awarded the Malcolm Jeeves Award for Best Student Overall in Honours Psychology Science. During her degree, Dr Fuhrmann gained research experience at UC Berkeley, the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

During her PhD, UCL statistics demonstratorship, Delia carried out a series of studies on adolescent development, learning and plasticity. The analysis involved using general linear mixed models, implemented in R, on a very large dataset. Two papers from this study have been published (Fuhrmann et al. 2016, Scientific Reports, and Fuhrmann et al. 2016, Psychological Science,) and more are in preparation. Delia also authored a theoretical paper on neuroplasticity in adolescence (Fuhrmann et al. 2015, TiCS) .

During her PhD, Delia worked part-time as a Demonstrator in the UCL Psychology Department teaching Statistics at an undergraduate and postgraduate level. She led on the statistical analysis of several complex projects in my lab, and she has become well known for her statistics expertise, to whom many colleagues turn for statistical advice. Dr Fuhrmann is now doing a postdoc at the MRC CBU, with Dr Rogier Kievit. Her postdoctoral research is exceptionally interesting and novel, using very large datasets and sophisticated statistical modelling. She has already published several preprints and has given multiple talks about her research. Her exceptional strengths in statistics and methods, and her deep interest in brain development across the lifespan, pave the way for a successful independent career in neuroscience.

Dr Fuhrmann had a baby and took six months maternity leave during her PhD and is an inspiring role model for other young parents in science.


Undergraduate Award 2018: Rachel Conys, University of Leeds

Rachel graduated top in a class of 180 Biomedical Science students in 2018, obtained an Alzheimer’s Society research scholarship during the summer of 2017, contributed to a number of public engagement activities including being an editor of the British Neuroscience Association newsletter, Bright Brains and presented her research at three conferences. Her future intentions are to obtain a PhD to continue her research training focussed on neurodegeneration and to ultimately lead her own research group to contribute to our understanding of the disease process, identify novel therapeutic targets and inspire the next generation of neuroscientists.

Rachel undertook ambitious projects, with challenging experiments and produced some exceptional research data. Her laboratory performance in generating ideas, designing experiments and her technical achievements at the bench were of a standard you would see from an excellent PhD student. She made some significant contributions to new knowledge including the identification of the specific HDAC important for activation of microglia and evidence that the target protein of the HDAC must shuttle between the nucleus and cytoplasm. Rachel demonstrated innovation in the way she generated HDAC–GFP fusion proteins to allow her to track their localisation in microglia and her PCR strategy to remove the nuclear localisation signal from HDAC2. Activated microglia are a current focus of Alzheimer’s research and understanding the cellular mechanisms through which HDAC inhibition regulates microglia activity will be have a huge impact in the field and make significant contribution toward therapeutic development.

Rachel is also an excellent presenter and has presented her work at the Alzheimer’s society meeting in London in September 2017, the British Conference of Undergraduate Research in Sheffield in March 2018 and the International Conference of Undergraduate Research in Leeds in September 2018.

Congratulations to all winners!


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