Neurosciences en Paris

Posted on: 20 September 2022 by Sophie Rustidge in September 2022 posts

View of Paris with Eiffel Tower in the distance

Sophie Rustidge is a second year PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Systems Biology. She recently attended the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies Conference 2022 in Paris and tells us about her trip.

My research

My intrigue for neuropsychiatric research initially began during my undergraduate studies. As I undertook my degree in zoology I was amazed by the various levels of intelligence in animal life and how genetics can influence behaviour. I continued my higher education with a Masters in Functional and Comparative Genomics here at the University of Liverpool, which ignited my passion for research. I chose to pursue a career in neuropsychiatric research as I felt many mental disorders are poorly understood and often have little to no treatment.

I started my PhD with Dr Igor Barsukov in April 2021 investigating the role of the neuronally expressed protein Shank3 and its link with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). SHANK3 is one of three SHANK genes which all have been linked with various neuropsychiatric disorders including ASD, ADHD, schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. SHANK3 is of particular interest as mutations within this gene affecting protein structure have been studied in patients with severe ASD. My work specifically looks at ASD mutations affecting the N-terminal region of Shank3 and how these are affecting protein function.

Federation of European Neuroscience Societies Conference 2022 – Paris, France

In July I was lucky enough to attend the first international neuroscience conference of my PhD. Around 8000 neuroscientists attended from all over the world with over 400 international speakers over the 5-day event. On the first day of the event I attended a mini conference hosted by the European Neurochemistry Society. Here I saw a talk by Dr Patricia Monteiro on Shank proteins and their role at the neuronal synapse. I discovered she is also researching Shank3 however, her research focuses on the C-terminal end region. I was able to catch her after the talks and discuss my own research in the context; she was delighted to see my work and invited me to work with her over in Portugal if I was interested. Moreover, over the 5 days there were numerous posters also exploring SHANK3 and close interactors as well as further ASD related genes. This gave me a great insight into not only the significance of my own research within the field but also the high standard of research undertaken here at the University of Liverpool.

I also attended a talk hosted by pharmaceutical company Roche. They presented work on their research pipeline to get functional therapeutics to market for neuropsychiatric illnesses. I found this interesting given the complexity of many of these disorders and was intrigued to know what their approach was to disorders such as ASD. I managed to ask a question to the panel and also discuss this with the Senior Vice President and prominent neuroscientist Azad Bonni after the talks. This was an excellent opportunity as it was an insight into the work carried out in industry and the opportunities available to neuroscientists post-PhD.

Perhaps the most significant talk of the conference was the presidential plenary lecture: The molecular logic of synapse formation by Thomas C. Südhof. Thomas won the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 2013 for this work on synaptic transmission. It was very inspiring to hear his work on synaptic adhesion proteins and how integral molecular neuroscience is to understanding the brain.

Overall, this conference gave me the opportunity to see international neuroscience research and understand my own research in the context. It was an extremely enjoyable and invaluable experience for my PhD and beyond. My advice to anyone hoping to attend a similar conference is: ask questions and speak to many different people as possible, you never know who you might meet!

Sophie Rustidge outside the FENS conference in Paris