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Oxfordshire science festival

We were at Oxfordshire Science Festival in Bonn Square on Saturday 8 March to talk about our research into neurodegenerative disease and teach kids about the brain with Air Dough and pipe-cleaners.

This year’s Oxford Science Festival was held under beautiful blue skies. Families flocked to Bon Square to browse the stalls, enjoy the sunshine and discover more about the exciting science going on at organisations in their local area.

Our stall this year was all about the diseased and healthy brain. We had information sheets laid out so that people could see the difference between the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease and a healthy brain, find out about amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, and ask us questions about their own experiences with relatives and friends.

For the children, we had a range of hands-on activities to teach them about the brain. There were two tables, each with different activities. On one, we had a model of the brain as it sits inside the skull, which you could take apart to see all the different components and how they fitted together. There was also a multi-coloured map of the cortex, showing the different brain areas and what thoughts and actions each one is responsible for, which the children used to make their own brain map model out of Air Dough. Alternatively, they could choose to draw the brain map on an MRC T-shirt, and we had some beautifully labelled diagrams. One girl even started a trend by adding ‘I love my brain!’ underneath hers.

On the other table, the children learnt all about the nerve cells that make up the brain. By twisting pipe-cleaners into neurons, complete with a cell body, dendrites, an axon and the myelin sheath, they found out what a neuron is made of and what each part does. We had a diagram to explain how neurons connect together to make a complex web in the brain, and how this allows us to think, feel pain, have emotions and remember. When it was time to go, they took their creations home with them.

In addition to studying Alzheimer’s disease, we also conduct research into the genes involved in other neurodegenerative disorders, including frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. By studying the effects of these genes, we can work out what causes cells in the nerves and brain to die. And the more we know about what causes the disease, the closer we get to developing new treatments for patients.

The festival was a wonderful opportunity to connect with the public, and we greatly enjoyed the day. There was a lot of interest in our research, with plenty of questions and some touching stories, and it reminded us why our work is needed and who we are doing it for.

We will also be at Market Square in Abingdon on Saturday 22 March, so please come along and see us!

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