UP Faculty of Health Sciences hosts 6th annual Neuroscience Day

Posted on May 21, 2015

The Neuroscience Research Group, which forms part of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine (ICMM) at the University of Pretoria (UP), hosted their 6th annual Neuroscience Day on Wednesday, 13 May 2015.

The objective of this annual event is to bring together researchers from different disciplines to share their research findings and future aspirations. Over the past six years the event has evolved into a regional initiative, with much interest shown by neighbouring institutions and even the private sector. The aim of the event is not only to provide a platform for showcasing neuroscience research at UP, but also to encourage collaboration among different groups in and outside the University. The success achieved in this regard was evident this year as the event attracted researchers from institutions all over the country and even from as far afield as Namibia.

Prof Irma Eloff, Dean of UP’s Faculty of Education, started the day’s proceedings by welcoming everyone to the Groenkloof Campus, after which Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal: Research and Postgraduate Studies, delivered her opening address to a packed hall of eager researchers, students and representatives from the private sector.

‘The newness of the field, along with the revelations that allow us to understand and explain, at a molecular level, phenomena that mankind has observed for many generations, is part of the excitement offered by the neurosciences. However, what really does impress and excite me is the range of disciplines and technologies that are brought to bear in this field and the depth of the fundamental science that is now being used,’ said Prof Burton.

The wide variety of topics of the presentations that were delivered at the event, ranged from talks about the management of stress in our daily lives and new technology that is being developed to interface directly with the human brain, to the latest discoveries in treatments for neural diseases such as Alzheimer’s and the latest advances in genomics. The various topics clearly illustrated that the revolution in the molecular sciences has completely reshaped the way in which life science research is conceptualised and conducted, and how new discoveries are made and integrated with the existing body of knowledge. The vast amount of data that is now available, together with some of the revolutionary 21st-century developments in technology, have resulted in an entirely new approach to this new knowledge and indeed a need for innovative interventions.

‘As the neurosciences start moving towards centre stage because of rapid developments in cellular and molecular medicine, researchers at UP – through their involvement in several facets of the neurosciences from both a basic research and a clinical perspective – continue to ensure that work in this exciting and highly relevant area is well represented at UP,’ said Prof Michael Pepper, Director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UP.

Most of the future-scenario analyses that are published in popular media nowadays include topics such as artificially enhanced human intelligence as a new future challenge and risk. The possibilities offered by enhanced brain function, for example, are endless and it has been suggested that developments in the rapidly developing field of neuroscience will in time be able to solve some of the most serious health problems of our time, including conditions like autism, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, which are considered to be incurable. However, as new discoveries continue to be made, it is becoming clear that we are facing some serious ethical and moral dilemmas that cannot be ignored.

Finally, Prof Burton emphasised the importance of our shared responsibility to make our world a better place by saying: ‘As academics, we have opportunities to use our knowledge and newly acquired skills to do more for our society, which is in urgent need of well-educated, wise experts. It is, however, not only the qualifications you will get, the publications we shall produce, or even our commitment to our work that is important; what is equally important is our willingness to use the knowledge that we acquire and to combine it with our enthusiasm and a commitment to ensuring a fair and equitable society, to help our world and our country, to keep moving forward in ethical ways with a view to creating the kind of world in which we all wish to live and which we would all wish to share.’

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Professor Peet du Toit (organiser of the UP Neuroscience Day), Ms Evangeline Nortje and Mr Michael Kleynhans, who did everything possible to ensure the success of the 6th annual UP Neuroscience Day. Thanks are also due to CE at UP for assisting with the administration.


- Author Ansa Heyl

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