UoA 15: UCL Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology

1. Introduction

This submission describes UCL’s research strategy for basic neuroscience excluding developmental and clinical neuroscience. The Introduction summarises the scope of neuroscience research being undertaken at UCL and provides an objective measure of the productivity of our research groups, the strength of our research environment, and our strategy for promoting the careers of young researchers.

1.1 The breadth of neuroscience research at UCL

UCL is active in most aspects of neuroscience research at the very highest level, and on a par with that achieved by the very best institutions in the USA. At the molecular level this encompasses studies on receptors, intracellular signalling, ion channels and transporters. At the cellular level, it covers most aspects of signalling within and between neurons, and also glia. At the systems level, it includes the function of neuronal networks and their relationships to higher-order cognitive processing. The recent establishment of the new Research Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology (NPP) brings together the majority of UCL’s basic neuroscience community, with shared interests in the function of the nervous system. Some staff with interests in the development of the nervous system, or its repair and involvement in disease, are centred in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, and the Institutes of Child Health (ICH) and Neurology (IoN).

The breadth and depth of UCL’s neuroscience research is so large that it is divided between four UCL submissions - to UoA9 (clinical neuroscience), UoA14 (developmental neuroscience), UoA44 (cognitive neuroscience) and UoA15 (basic neuroscience). However, it is important to appreciate that neuroscience represents a major cross-cutting theme at UCL. Hence, there are strong links between research groups described in the returns for UoA9 and 14 and those described here. Indeed, collaborations between the groups returned to the different UoAs are widespread.

1.2 Objective measurement of UCL’s neuroscience research productivity

UCL possesses outstanding research expertise in neuroscience, generating 30% of England's contribution to the world's most highly-cited (top 20%) publications in this area of research over 1995-2004 (RAND Corporation Working Paper WR-368-DH, April 2006, prepared for Department of Health). This contribution is more than twice that of the next highest contributors. This demonstrates objectively that UCL constitutes the highest quality research base for neuroscience in England and probably the UK. Of the cited papers in this return, 29% are published in Nature, Nature journals, Science, Neuron and Cell, and this percentage increases to 49% if Journal of Neuroscience articles are included. Further evidence of research strength is provided by the 19 five-year Programme Grants that staff entered in this submission have received from Research Councils and Charities.

1.3 Strength of the research environment in NPP

We have invested strategically in improving our research infrastructure and recruiting early-career staff to develop new research areas. This has enabled new and existing staff to pursue their research in modern or upgraded surroundings, and produced a substantial increase in research funding. Specifically, we have:

  • Completed the Andrew Huxley building for Molecular Neuroscience (£9M JIF award to PIs from Pharmacology, Physiology and Biology). 
  • Undertaken SRIF-funded major renewal (£16.4M) of laboratory infrastructures in Pharmacology, Physiology and Anatomy.
  • Renewed the MRC Cooperative Group grants for molecular neuroscience of receptors and ion channels.
  • Established and renewed the Wellcome Trust’s London Pain Consortium (£5.5M).
  • Increased the number of 5-year ‘Programme’ grant holders to 19 from the MRC, BBSRC and Wellcome Trust out of 47 A-category staff and research Fellows.
  • Increased our overall research grant income to £70.2M.
  • Retained two senior staff with Royal Society-Wolfson Research Awards.
  • Recruited numerous early-career staff to Fellowships and Faculty positions. This includes 2 MRC CDAs, 4 WTSRFs, 2 WT Career Development Fellowships, and one each of MRC NIA, Roy.Soc. University Res.Fellowship, RS Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow, WT Advanced Training Fellowship, and a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship.
  • Increased the number of interdisciplinary research studentships by securing/renewing funding for 4-year PhD programmes. New programmes include: the Wellcome Trust Pain consortium, MRC Biomedicine programme; and the BBSRC quota award.

1.4 Training young researchers

UCL is a major centre for the training of young researchers in neuroscience. Flagship PhD programmes set up or renewed in this area since 2001 that involve staff in this return, comprise:

  • Wellcome Trust/MRC funded 4-year PhD Programme in Neuroscience (6 students/year)
  • Wellcome Trust funded PhD Programme associated with the Pain Consortium (3 students/year)
  • MRC funded cross-faculty 4-year PhD Programme in Biomedicine (5 students/year)
  • EPSRC-funded CoMPLEX 4-year PhD Programme, designed to bring students from the Physical Sciences into Biology (average 13 students/year)
  • LMCB MRC funded 4-year PhD programme in cellular/molecular biol.(6 per year)
  • BBSRC quota awards (3 per year).

Over 2001-2007, these programmes and other individual studentships involve a mean of 79 FTEs per year undertaking postgraduate training. They bring the Department into three major research interfaces with maths and physical sciences, with clinical sciences and with the MRC-LMCB. Members of the Department are Directors or co-Directors of the Wellcome Trust Neuroscience programme (Attwell, Gibb) and the CoMPLEX programme (G.Moss).

Download full text of the RA5a statement for Pre-clinical and Human Biological Sciences (pdf 220Kb)

Staff names below link to submitted publications:

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