Some of the Upper Sixth biologists wrote about the afternoon.
Michelle Hung, Richard Walker, David Wright all chose to write about the ‘criminal brain’:
“Dr Guy Sutton is a breath-taking speaker, with so much enthusiasm about what he does; he really engages the listener. One fascinating part of the afternoon was when he discussed criminal brains, the fact that people committed crimes because of brain damage in the area of the brain that controls judgement, and that once their brain tumour is removed they returned to normal.
“One example was of a murderer. After his conviction, he had a brain scan which revealed that his frontal lobe (an area of the brain responsible for understanding consequences) was damaged. This led to him being unable to think about his actions as he committed his crime. This also led the audience to think about how the crimes committed by these people should be adjudicated.”
Tom Hua wrote:
“Epigenetics – the study of environmental effects on one's genetic expression – was another topic incorporated in Dr Guy Sutton's lecture, whereby he described the environmental influences that may trigger diseases like Huntington’s. He explained the mechanisms that are only now coming to be understood – like DNA methylation and histone acetylation.”
Llyr Heward-Jones added:
“A part of Dr Sutton's talk that caught my attention was the effect of drugs on the brain. We used an interactive way of observing the effect of heroin, MDMA and LSD on the synapses in the brain. We were told that drugs such as MDMA can have the effect of punching holes in the blood-brain barrier which can potentially allow viruses into the brain. I preferred his thought-provoking account to the fear-mongering that usually surrounds information on drugs.”
Finally, Amber Wilkinson said:
“Towards the end of the talk we looked at the result of new findings in neurological research in the field of neurobionics. This aims to substitute failed and damaged parts of the human brain and spinal cord by artificial, implantable systems. We saw a paraplegic woman who was able to pick up a glass with a bionic arm and drink from it through a straw. Her triumph made me reflect on the new possibilities that this could offer so many more people in the future. It was pretty cool.”
As part of the Academic Extension Programme, Dr Sutton stayed on to give an evening lecture on ‘The Mind & Brain in the 21st Century’.
Jenn Westermann organised the evening and wrote:
“This proved to be a fascinating tour of the latest developments in neurobiology. The latest understanding of neuroplasticity was discussed: how the brain can learn to redirect the synapses around the damaged area, even if you have a hemisphere or cerebellum missing!
“However, it was the development in neural decoding that fascinated me and others the most: not only are we now able to decode our nerve impulses into meanings, we can now use this to communicate with patients in a coma and allow patients with tetraplegia to move bionic limbs using only their minds. The development of technology to scan our brains used in the Human Connectome Project, and neurobionics implants seem set to revolutionise not only our understanding of our brain, but the lives of many people living with paralysis or in comas.”