Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Brunel Science Lecture: “Eat More Fish”

by Catriona Ellis

Professor John Stein, a prestigious neuroscientist and professor of physiology at Oxford University visited PGS on 15th September to give the annual Brunel Science Lecture. Particularly Professor Stein spoke about the link between Omega-3 intake and dyslexia in children, saying “The more Omega-3 they consume, the higher the educational achievement.”

Catriona Ellis: Firstly, when did you become interested in neuroscience?
Professor Stein: I was sixteen at school, I was going to do physics and engineering, then I decided I wanted to know more about the brain. I thought it would be possible to study the brain a bit like an engineering problem and so I decided to do biology.

CE: For those people who want to study neurology or the sciences at university, what work experience would you recommend?
JS: If you want to do neuroscience as a doctor, which is what most people do, (then later specialize in psychiatry or neurology,) you need to get attachments to local GPs or hospitals because, as an admissions tutor for medicine, what we’re always looking out for is whether or not (the candidate) really understands what medicine is about. If you want to do neuroscience as a subject independent from medicine, the best thing to do is get involved in a lab. Usually it’s a university lab but it’s equally good to get involved in a pharmaceutical lab.

CE: Regarding your work with dyslexia, is there a difference between taking Omega-3 as a supplement or as fresh fish?
JS: Fresh fish is better in lots of ways because fish packages not just the Omega-3 but also iodine, zinc, vitamin D and Vitamin A. These are the things that modern diets are lacking in, but supplements are the next best thing.

CE: Where do you see your research into dyslexia going? Would you like Omega-3 to be given out a break time as a state funded campaign?
JS: I would certainly like to see that for children who are not eating enough fish. It’s terribly important because during our evolution we grew up close to the sea so the majority of our very primitive diet was fish and shellfish. What that enabled was our brains to incorporate these Omega-3’s patterns, which happen to be exactly the right length and charge profile to form ideal membranes that can set up the ionic gradients and the charge profile across the membrane.

CE: Finally, what developments can we look forward to in neurology in the future?
JS: Mental health accounts for a greater expenditure by the NHS than cardiovascular disease and cancer combined, so the great challenge of neurology and neuropsychiatry is to solve mental health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease.

CE: Do you think we could be on the brink of curing Alzheimer’s?

JS: I think that the problem is that there isn’t enough money spent on it. The problem is that it’s crept up on us rather rapidly; when I was a medical student (admittedly that was some time ago) we thought Alzheimer’s was a very rare disease and yet now it’s definitely common. Ten percent of anybody over sixty is going to have Alzheimer’s. It’s very scary. I’m convinced that solving mental disorders, including Alzheimer’s, is the future for neurology, neuropsychology and neuroscience. We’ve got to do it.

Professor Stein was stimulating, whether showing us that a kitchen knife can completely penetrate the skull without damaging the brain, or by informing us of his animal testing tenet ‘replacement, reduction, refinement’, but simply concluded by telling us to: “Eat more fish.”

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