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£1.57 million for research into learning and memory

21 May 2009

A collaborative research project by Cardiff University and the University of Bristol into learning and memory has been given a significant boost with a Programme Grant award of £1.57 million from the Wellcome Trust.

The joint award has been made to Professor John Aggleton and Professor John Pearce from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, and Professor Zafar Bashir, Professor Malcolm Brown and Dr Clea Warburton from Bristol University’s Department of Anatomy/MRC Centre for Synaptic Plasticity. This award continues a highly successful collaboration between these researchers from Cardiff Neurosciences Centre and Bristol Neuroscience.

The research is concerned with understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms which underlie the formation of two vital classes of memory - episodic memory, which allows recall of events in your own life, and recognition memory, which allows us to judge whether something is new or familiar.

Professor Aggleton, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience said: "The award is extremely exciting as it allows us to examine the central mechanisms in the brain that are responsible for our day-to-day memories. It is this same class of memories that make us individually what we are, and at the same time are so vulnerable in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. Because of the importance of understanding how these memories are formed and lost we are combining expertise across the two Universities to ensure that we can deliver world-leading research."

Dr Warburton said: "Understanding how different brain structures cooperate in producing complex memories will help provide a more accurate picture of the neurobiology of memory."

Previous work by this research group has shown that within the temporal lobe of the brain are two neural systems, one centred on the hippocampus and one on the perirhinal cortex, which can work independently to support episodic and recognition memory respectively. However, it is now becoming increasingly clear that in some instances these two systems may interact. The joint failure of episodic and recognition memory, as in Alzheimer’s disease or Mild Cognitive Impairment, is devastating for the individual and a major burden for both their carers and society.

Professor Bashir said: "This work will highlight more completely the range of structures that when damaged can contribute to memory loss in disease, or could provide potential therapeutic targets."

1. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Visit the University website at: www.cardiff.ac.uk

2. Cardiff School of Psychology

The School of Psychology is one of Britain’s top-rated schools of psychology. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, it was ranked first in the UK on the basis of overall quality of research and numbers of staff whose work was submitted. In an independent assessment of its teaching, conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the School was rated ‘Excellent’.

3. University of Bristol

The University of Bristol was founded in 1876 as University College, Bristol. It was the first higher education institution in England to admit women on an equal basis to men. The University is internationally distinguished and one of the very best universities in the UK dedicated to learning, discovery and enterprise. It is a world leader in research, a member of the Russell Group of universities and of the Worldwide Universities Network.

In the recent 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) over 61 per cent of the University’s research work assessed in 48 research fields was awarded either the top 4* rating, defined as ‘world leading’, or the 3* rating, classed as ‘internationally excellent’.

The University has around 12,500 undergraduate and 3,500 postgraduate students. The University organises its academic affairs in some 45 departments and 15 research centres which are arranged in six faculties.

4. The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk

Lowri Jones, Public Relations, Cardiff University, T: 02920 870 995; e: joneslc3@cardiff.ac.uk

Hannah Johnson, Public Relations Office, Communications & Marketing Services, University of Bristol, T: (0117) 928 8896; email: hannah.johnson@bristol.ac.uk

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