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Ph ot o Cre d it : St ep h

Ham b sch


Report on IBRO-UCT African Advanced School on Techniques in Neuroscience
held at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, from 3 to 18 December 2017

The IBRO-UCT African Advanced School on Techniques in Neuroscience provided an ideal opportunity for researchers,
postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students in Africa to gain knowledge and experience in the use of advanced
techniques used to study the nervous system. It succeeded in promoting collaboration across the continent of Africa
and enhancing the level of expertise in the neurosciences by encouraging interaction in daily group tutorial sessions,
creating a common website for exchange of information, and a WhatsApp group for frequent informal
communication. A total of twenty-five students (from Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, and
South Africa) and ten instructors (from Canada, South Africa, The Netherlands, and USA) participated in the school.

Introductions and orientation during the welcome session were followed by a full day of student research
presentations. These served to inform participants of each other’s strengths and promoted interaction and hopefully
future collaborations. Students were also divided into four groups for group research projects. Each group was
facilitated by one or two tutors, and students were required to prepare a research proposal to address a specific
question. These preparations took place during tutorial sessions at the end of each day. Students from different
specialities, different institutions, and different countries, learned to work together as a team, recognizing and
harnessing each other’s strengths, to produce an impressive research proposal which they presented as a group at the
end of the school. Students were motivated and produced excellent research proposals entitled (1) Understanding
cholinergic signalling in the mPFC: the role in attention performance, (2) The allometry of stereologically estimated
sleep and wake related nuclei in 32 African mammals, (3) The effects of chronic stress on empathic-like behaviour in
rats and (4) Modulatory effects of Moringa oleifera (MO) Administration on Early and Late Life Stresses. The group with
the best presentation was rewarded with a prize. Students also presented their own research as posters during the
second week of the school. The posters were judged by faculty and prizes were awarded for best poster presentations.

The clinical paediatric neurology component of the school was led by Jo Wilmshurst, Head of Paediatric Neurology at
the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, assisted by her team of specialists. Lectures built a foundation of
information relating to terminology, clinical presentations and co-morbidities of epilepsy, providing a deeper
understanding of the pathogenesis of epilepsy and the role of neurosurgery in paediatric neurology. Students gained
practical experience by attending clinics and ward-rounds.

The basic electrophysiology/immunohistochemistry/stereology component was run by Toni-Lee Sterley, assisted by


Joe Raimondo, Jaideep Bains, Dave Rosenegger, Thijs Verhoog, Vinogran Naidoo, Dirk Lang, Susan Cooper, Jose
Maldonado, Adhil Bhagwandin, Dawie Van den Heever, Hayley Tomes, Anja de Lange and John Lee. The first day of the
basic neuroscience component included introductory lectures on the principles of neurophysiology. This established
the conceptual grounding for much of the advanced material presented in the remainder of the course. Topics
included the basis of membrane potential, action potentials, intrinsic properties of neurons, neurotransmission and
EEG. Students had hands-on experience in practical sessions involving (1) recording action potentials from cockroach
leg preparations using bio amplifiers (Backyard Brains Spikerboxes) constructed by students in the Epilepsy School in
December 2015, (2) whole cell patch clamp experiments, clamping single neurons and making intracellular recordings
during epileptiform activity, (3) recording field potentials during in vitro seizures in cultured tissue slices housed in
interface chambers, (4) calcium imaging in cultured tissue slices while inducing in vitro seizures and (5) confocal
imaging of brain sections that the students had prepared during their immunohistochemistry sessions. Stereology was
an important and highly relevant component of the course. Several students were experienced in cell counting and
volume estimation; they really benefitted from the lectures on appropriate experimental design and data
interpretation, instruction on how to carry out a stereological estimate of cell number and volume in a section of
nervous tissue with optimal precision and reproducibility, and most importantly, eliminating bias.

An important addition to the program was a lecture and practical demonstration on analysing rodent behaviour in
research, a highly relevant topic for the current cohort of researchers in Africa. This session evoked much discussion,
exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge. Students also received a highly informative lecture on statistics,
specifically the correct application of statistics in research. This lecture also generated much necessary discussion and
proved very valuable to the students. The students also contributed enthusiastically to the journal discussion of a
paper in Science, by Burkett et al., entitled “Oxytocin-dependent consolation behaviour in rodents”. Importantly, a
session was also devoted to a discussion of “Ethics in Research”, in which several instructors participated and
answered questions.

The feedback from the students was very positive. This was an excellent group of students. Matthew Olude (Nigeria)
was elected President and Lydia Boumansour (Algeria) was voted Secretary of the IBRO School. The alumni continue to
connect on WhatsApp and Facebook and are helping to build our next generation of neuroscientists in Africa.

Organizer: Toni-Lee Sterley

Local Coordinator: Dirk Lang

Group Photo: IBRO-UCT African Advanced School on Techniques in Neuroscience