Summer 2021 Programme

Join us for a series of online seminars celebrating Black researchers in neuroscience!

Join the seminar using Microsoft Teams here.

Please note, only King’s College London staff & students are permitted to access meeting room.

Women of the Wohl are excited to host our second round of the BlackBrainSciShowcase! Speakers who identify as Black researchers in neuroscience and neuro-related research areas will showcase their work from a broad range of different neuroscience areas to the King’s College London research community in a 1-hour online seminar on Microsoft Teams. Come along to hear from a wide range of different areas within neuroscience, from institutions around the world and from different career stage researchers! 

Each seminar is then followed by a 1-hour informal Q&A discussion aimed at students (undergraduate, masters, PhD) and early career stage researchers. Although the Q&A discussions are organised with these groups in mind, all other King’s staff are welcome to attend if you wish. Anyone is also completely welcome to just stay for the hour of talks, as your schedules permit. The Q&A session will be an opportunity to ask the speakers anything about their career journey and their lived experience working in research, in a relaxed, informal setting. 

All King’s College London staff and students are welcome to attend these events: all career levels and all race and gender identities are welcome. 

Each event will be chaired by the friendly  Women of the Wohl team  via audio/video and in the Teams chat function. We will be making sure everyone is treated with respect, feels welcome, safe & comfortable and that everyone gets a fair chance to speak and ask their questions. You will be able to ask your questions at the appropriate times using audio or the chat function in Microsoft Teams.

We understand that not everyone finds it easy to ask questions in front of an audience or think of questions on the spot, which is why we’ve also created the option for you to anonymously submit your career-related questions for our speakers in advance here.

Programme of Speakers

Session 1 – Thursday 15th July 2021

Winnie Nkoana
University of Cape Town (South Africa)

Exploring Learning Disabilities and Access to Education in Custody, Amongst Young Offenders and Non-Offenders in Cape Town, South Africa

Given that crime rates in SA are very high and mainly perpetrated by young people, there is a need for research studies to be conducted so that policies can be implemented in tackling this issue. One factor that has emerged from the literature is how prevalent learning disabilities are in young offenders. However, there is little literature focusing on such research in the SA context, in which the interaction of internally and externally-driven factors contribute to the complexity of the issue. There were two parts to the current study. In part 1, I investigated learning disabilities and general intellectual functioning in a sample of young offenders (n=20) and n=48 non-offenders (aged 13-20 years). In part 2, I conducted a semi-structured interview with the Head of a youth center, regarding access to education in custody. For part 1, I used measures of alcohol and substance use, learning disabilities, general intellectual functioning, and depression. The results for part 1 showed that there were significant differences in Verbal IQ between the groups, with young offenders scoring significantly lower than non-offenders. Findings from part 2 indicated that although there are provisions for education, all offenders cannot be accommodated, and priority is given to those who cannot read and write. These results could be used to inform youth correctional centers of learning disabilities among young offenders and the need to screen for such difficulties, so that rehabilitation strategies may be employed, especially as such difficulties may impact on their ability to communicate effectively in custody.

About the Speaker
I am Winnie Nkoana, an Honours Psychology Graduate from the University of Cape Town. I am currently in my final year of Master’s in Clinical Neuropsychology at University of Cape Town. I also hold Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Limpopo. My research interest is centered around Developmental and Acquired Neurodisabilities, in young offenders specifically Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Learning disabilities (LDs) and their access to education in custody, and how these Neurodisabilities may hinder their access to education if there are any educational provisions in place and how the criminal justice system identifies, recognize, and assess for Neurodisabilities in young offenders. My Honours research study focused on exploring prevalence of LDs in young offenders as compared non-offenders, under the supervision of A/Prof Leigh Schrieff, who is my current Masters supervisor. I am currently a published researcher and my work titled: Understanding the educational needs of young offenders: A prevalence study of traumatic brain injury and learning disabilities, where I am the first author has been published in International Journal of Educational Development. I work part-time as a tutor in the Psychology Department at University of Cape Town. In 2019 I took on two research assistant jobs, one as a translator to translate research questionnaires, the research was looking at Dementia in older people and their quality of life and the other research focused on behavioral, emotional, and executive functioning in young offenders who had TBI. I love cooking, singing and I am an obsessive-compulsive cleaner.

Instagram: @nkoanasamantha

Rachel Williams
King’s College London

From vision to action: Diversity and organisation in the zebrafish optic tectum

The optic tectum and its mammalian homologue, the superior colliculus, transform topographic visual information from the retina into goal-directed behaviour in body-centered space. How the tectum transforms activity in retinotectal coordinates into commands that guide this movement is not well understood. To address this, we are using the larval zebrafish to determine the identity and organization of cell types that connect the tectum to downstream areas of the brain.

At 6 days post-fertilization larval zebrafish are small and translucent and so fluorescently labelled neurons can be visualized in their entirety in the intact, living brain. Tectal projection neurons were sparsely labelled with fluorescent proteins using the Gal4/UAS system. High resolution, 3-dimensional confocal images of labelled neurons were acquired and registered to an anatomical atlas of the zebrafish brain. This allows comparison of cells derived from different fish within a common reference space and precise identification of axonal targets. Preliminary analysis of a novel library of tectal projection neurons suggests their projections are diverse and the structure of both axons and dendrites varies along the anterior-posterior axis. These findings will be tested against a publically available dataset of neurons.

Topographic visual information from the retina is transformed differentially in the tectum based on both the location and morphology of the tectal projection neurons receiving it. Functional imaging could reveal how these physical connections underlie correlated activity in the zebrafish brain.

About the Speaker
Hello, I’m Rachel (she/they)! I’m a PhD student at King’s College London (KCL) and a Jamaican descendent of the Windrush generation. I’m part of both the Meyer lab and the Grubb lab in the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology. My work investigates how the zebrafish optic tectum facilitates the transformation of visual information into appropriate behavioural outputs. In other words, how do we get from vision to action?
I graduated from my Neuroscience BSc at KCL in 2015 and gained a King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship while working with Dr Clemens Kiecker. Between my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, I was elected Vice President for Welfare and Community of the KCL students’ union and spent a year contributing to local and national campaigns for social justice and equity.
I am passionate about science communication and widening participation whether it takes place in my department, for the public, or online.
Twitter: @sciwithrach

Session 2 – Thursday 22nd July

Afra Aabdien
King’s College London

‘Exploring early pathogenic mechanisms driven by mutant ARPP21 in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

ARPP21 is an RNA binding protein, which has been identified as a novel ALS risk gene, in sporadic and familial cases. There is limited knowledge on the role of ARPP21 in neurons and its association with neurodegeneration. The aims of this project were: I. To assess the organisation and distribution of endogenous ARPP21 in CRISPR-knock-in transgenic ARPP21 rodent models compared to non-transgenic controls. II. To understand whether there are changes in ARPP21 expression through rodent development. III. To evaluate the expression of TDP-43, another ALS susceptibility gene, in CRISPR-knock-in transgenic rodent brain tissue.

Endogenous ARPP21 and neuronal marker MAP2 were immunostained on rodent brain and spinal cord sections. We used confocal microscopy to understand the distribution of ARPP21 in neurons on these sections. Additionally, lysates were harvested for immunoblotting for quantification of ARPP21 expression through development. Results: Imaging of immunostained brains revealed ARPP21 expression is enriched in neuronal populations in the brain neuronal with a cytosolic distribution. Upon closer inspection, neurons exhibit ARPP21 granules in the cytosol. Immunoblotting showed higher ARPP21 expression in transgenic mice. TDP-43 is insoluble in ARPP21 transgenic rodent tissue.

ARPP21 is localised in the neuronal cytosol and forms granules in CRISPR knock-in transgenic mice. The roles of these granules are not yet understood. Transgenic mice exhibit higher ARPP21 expression than non-transgenic mice. The consequence of higher ARPP21 expression in ALS pathology requires further investigation. TDP-43 insolubility suggests that TDP-43 aggregation may be a hallmark in ARPP21 mutant cases.

About the Speaker
Afra Aabdien is a second-year Clinical Neuroscience PhD student at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute. She graduated from King’s College London with an MSci in Biochemistry. Throughout her undergraduate course, she undertook various fellowships in laboratories focused on neurological research, where her interest in neuroscience grew. After her degree, she decided to pursue her passion by starting a PhD investigating the underlying molecular mechanisms caused by a disease-causing gene in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Aside from her studies, Afra is passionate about public engagement with science and worked as a mediator at Science Gallery London, where scientific disciplines are made more accessible to the general public by being communicated through artwork. Her involvement with Science Gallery London led her to be a team member of King’s Cultural Community, which connects diverse students and academics at King’s College London. Moreover, she has been president of the Sudanese Society at King’s College London and has successfully conducted outreach sessions for East African students looking to apply for further education.
Contact: afra.aabdien@kcl.ac.uk

Session 3 – Thursday 29th July

Tomi Akingbade
Imperial College London

‘Sex specific differences in the presentation of dementia’

Dementia is one of the leading causes of disability in old age. Often, diagnosis of dementia relies on a combination of cognitive impairments and an invasive lumbar puncture procedure. With increasing cases, there is a need for accurate and minimally invasive diagnosis; hence the current interest in identifying a blood-based biomarker. As it stands, studies into blood-based biomarkers have shown differing results. A lack of reproducibility between research groups stalls the translation from research laboratories to frontline clinical settings. It is possible that these disparities are due to unaccounted factors such as age, ethnicity and sex. This study provides a sex-specific profile of blood-based proteins that accompany cognitive impairment in dementia patients. When looking at well-researched blood-based biomarkers of dementia, we have found that men and women present specific dementia subtypes differently. This study highlights the need for future dementia biomarker studies to account for sex as a key contributory factor to risk, pathology and outcome of treatment.

About the Speaker
I’m Tomi, a neuroscientist with an interest in bettering the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly in Alzhiemer’s disease dementia. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham and during that time I spent a year as a research collaborator with Professor Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska at the University of Leicester. This was my first taste of research and I was intrigued by it all. During my time there, I was able to identify sex-specifc differences in the peripheral presentation of dementia with high clinical specificity and sensitivity. Also at university, I founded the Black Women in Science Network, a global community of women with African and/or Caribbean heritage at various stages of their scientific careers. As an advocate for equality and representation in the science industry, I am passionate about giving black women the necessary platforms to connect and further their STEM careers/interests with the resources they need to succeed.
Twitter: @tomiakingbade_
LinkedIn
Black Women In Science Network

Katlego Sebolai
University of Cape Town

The Bilingual Effect: The relationship between bilingualism and working memory ability

We investigated a relationship between bilingualism and four components of working memory, namely verbal short-term memory, visuospatial short-term memory, verbal working memory, and visuospatial working memory. The sample comprised 193 students from an English medium university in South Africa who spoke English and at least one African language. The students had self-reported high proficiencies in both languages. The sample was aged between 18 and 25 years and reported proficiency in at least one African language. The population of young adult bilinguals who speak an African language is under-researched hence our interest in this group. The results of this study showed a bilingual advantage in some components of working memory, namely verbal and visuospatial working memory. The findings supported, to some extent, evidence that bilinguals show cognitive advantages in executive functioning and working memory in particular.

About the Speaker
Katlego is a 2nd year Neuropsychology Master’s student at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She completed her Bachelor’s and Honours Degree at the University of the Witwatersrand. In her Honours year, Katlego worked under the supervision of Prof. Kate Cockcroft who is a member of the Wits Neuroscience Research Laboratory. Katlego’s research was part of Prof. Cockcroft’s ongoing project aimed at investigating the ways in which working memory processes develop and are assessed in typical monolingual and multilingual children, as well as in young adults. The focus of Katlego’s research was establishing whether there is a positive relationship between bilingualism and working memory ability in young South African adults, who are proficient in English and at least one African language. Currently, Katlego’s research is centred around exploring the dimensions of apathy in elderly patients with various neurological and psychiatric diagnoses. She is supervised by Dr. Progress Njomboro who is a member of the Applied Cognitive Science and Experimental Neuropsychology Team (ASCENT). In her spare time, Katlego enjoys cosying up with a book or writing her own short stories.

Session 4 – Thursday 5th August

Dr. Mahmoud Bukar Maina
University of Sussex

The role of Tau protein in cellular raw materials production

Many forms of Dementia are associated with a protein called Tau. The most well-known function of Tau is in its ability to stabilise microtubules. These are long “train tracks” in cells along which cargo (such as nutrients) can be carried. However, in Dementia, Tau detaches from the microtubules and clumps inside brain cells. This is believed to contribute to brain cell death leading to neurodegeneration. As a result, drugs are being developed to treat Dementia with Tau as a target.

However, recent work by myself and other scientists has shown that Tau also localises and performs actions in a structure inside the cell called the nucleolus. The nucleolus is important for producing raw materials needed for protein production which is needed for our cells’ health and survival. My work specifically showed that removal of Tau in cells causes the nucleolus to produce more raw materials. In this presentation, I will discuss this recent work and its importance to the field.

About the Speaker
Dr Mahmoud Maina is a Research Fellow in Sussex Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, UK. He obtained his BSc in Human Anatomy from the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria, MSc in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience and PhD in Neuroscience, both from the University of Sussex, UK. His research focuses on understanding the basic mechanism of disease in neurodegenerative diseases, with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Maina is also passionate about promoting public understanding of science and inspiring and training young scientists. He founded the TReND in Africa Outreach branch in 2013 and serves as the Outreach Coordinator. He is also the founder of Science Communication Hub Nigeria and the African Science Literacy Network aiming to enhance access to science role models and public understanding of science.
For his work, he has received numerous awards, including the Royal Society of Biology Science Communication Award in 2017, New England Biolabs Passion for Science Humanitarian Duty Award in 2019 and was admitted as Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2018. In 2020, he was endorsed by the Royal Society as an exceptionally promising scientist.
Twitter: @mahmoudbukar
Website: mahmoudbmaina.com

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