CNCB’s Brian Patton becomes Royal Society University Research Fellow

October 8, 2013

Dr Brian Patton is recognised by The Royal Society for his work on imaging deep tissue neural processes using nanodiamonds (ND).

Dr Brian Patton of the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at Oxford University is among just 41 scientists appointed by The Royal Society as University Research Fellows for 2013. Brian has been working in the optics research group at CNCB and is recognised for his work on imaging deep tissue neural processes using nanodiamonds (ND).

Martin Booth of CNCB says: “Brian’s research will lead to entirely new ways of observing neural activity deep within brain tissue.

“By developing this new technology alongside advanced microscopes, he will be able to answer a wide range of scientific questions.”

Brian Patton says that the Fellowship will help him in his work to extend the ability to image the working brain:

“One of the key challenges in science today is to gain better understanding of how brains work. We know that they are made up of neurons, that the neurons communicate electrically with one another and that each neuron “talks” to many neighbours.

“Using techniques such as electrophysiology, where a wire directly measures the voltage when a neuron fires, or MRI scans, which can look at changes in blood flow and oxygen consumption in groups of neurons, we have gained insights into how these signals translate into behaviours, memories and emotions.

“I would like a researcher to be able to look simultaneously at each neuron in a section of a brain, observe it firing and see how it interacts with its neighbours.

“The technologies I work with are nanodiamonds (ND) – pieces of diamond between 10-100 nm in size. They are small enough to penetrate into cells, nontoxic and, because of their surface chemistry, can have biomolecules attached to them to target structures within cells. Furthermore, they contain a light-emitting defect, the nitrogen-vacancy (NV) defect, that can be used to detect magnetic or electrical fields, and so can be used to directly observe the firing of neurons.

“This fellowship will allow me to take the first steps in realising this type of imaging. I want to learn how to process the ND to prevent the individual diamonds from sticking together and then to coat them with suitable chemical tags that will make them bind to appropriate parts of the neurons.

“In order to check that they are in the right places, I then want to image them with “super-resolution” microscopes that measure their position with greater accuracy than conventional methods.

“In order to have the NVs react to electrical fields, it is necessary to manipulate them with microwave fields, so incorporating the necessary equipment into our microscopes will be an essential task. With this in place, it will be time to test the sensitivity of our measurement schemes, initially using artificially generated electrical or magnetic fields.

“Finally, I want to begin to measure the firing of neurons either grown on sample holders, or specially dissected from fruit fly brains.”

Brian’s Fellowship begins in October 2013.

The Royal Society University Fellowship Scheme

The University Research Fellowship scheme aims to provide outstanding scientists, who have the potential to become leaders in their chosen fields, with the opportunity to build an independent research career. The scheme is extremely competitive and URFs are expected to be strong candidates for permanent posts in universities at the end of their fellowships.

The newly appointed URFs are working on a wide variety of projects including exploring the missing link in galaxy formation, mathematical modelling of gene regulation and the biomechanics of insect flight.

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

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