Brain Awareness Week - Our amazing brain and neurological research 

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Brain Awareness Week -  Our amazing brain and neurological research 

12 ways our amazing brain and neurological research are wowing us in Brain Awareness Week.

Brain Awareness Week (BAW), the worldwide campaign celebrating the brain and advances in neurological research, largely shifted online to reflect covid restrictions when launched on 15 March 2021.

But there are advantages in that as many of the virtual events are being recorded and made available well beyond the end of the campaign - which means lots more time to see what’s happening!

We’ve selected 12 of the many events being promoted in the UK by the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) that highlight some of the astounding work being done to help us better understand the human brain.


Picking brains

Anyone exploring the video game Minecraft this week can wander through two new worlds to learn about neuroscience using our brain’s building blocks.

Neuron Safari, developed by the biomedical researcher Richard Fitzpatrick of the University of Edinburgh, takes players on an immersive journey featuring brains, cells and molecules.

The new ‘Experimental Zone’ and ‘Brain Barrier Zone’ also feature ‘a fiendish set of puzzles and traps’ to test memory and other cognitive functions.


   We have constructed a unique world that encompasses an introductory look into basic neuroscience and cellular concepts, using real data!   

Neuron Safari


The safari, which offers eight exploration zones in total, was originally developed as part of research into how Minecraft and other creative video games could be used to teach biology at university [1].

It was one of only two UK projects to attract BAW grants this year [2] from the week’s founders, The Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organisation working towards increasing understanding of the brain through research and education [3]. 


Bee-ing brainy!

The second UK project to attract a BAW grant this year was the Virtual British Brain Bee 2021, a neuroscience competition for secondary school students run by the British Brain Bee charity. 

Styled on the well-known Spelling Bee, the contest motivates learning about the brain and careers in neuroscience among youngsters aged 14 to 19.

Winners from the British chapter, which was launched in 2015 and is now one of 175 in over 60 nations worldwide, have an opportunity to compete for the international title and a $3000 prize [4].


New in neurodiversity

The founder of ADHD WISE UK, Jannine Harris, shared her lived experience of ADHD and best practice insights into enhancing neurodiversity and inclusion during a virtual CPD event.

Jannine, a member of the Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH), the Society for Education and Training (SET), and the British Psychological Society (BPS), set up ADHD WISE UK to ‘champion the possibilities and promote positive outcomes for those with ADHD’ [5]. 


Best brain boosts

How can food, exercise and healthy habits help keep your brain in tip-top condition? And how can we measure cognition? 

Answers to these and other questions linked to brain health and dementia can be accessed for free by everyone until May in free weekly webinars presented by Dementia Research Network Ireland [6].

In another nod to nutrition, on 17 March, Clinical Dietician Caoimhe Kenny will be giving tips on how following a healthy diet can help life with a neurological condition [7].

Caoimhe’s webinar is part of a BAW series run by MS Ireland, Epilepsy Ireland, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and Migraine Ireland.

And on the same day, nutritionist Fran Taylor of the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership hosts an interactive nutrition and cooking webinar to improve gut health [8]. (Fee: £10 - £30)


Music and movement

Original musical compositions reflecting the experiences of people living with dementia were presented by the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at a free live-streamed BAW event.

The latest evidence on the links between music, dementia and positive ageing was also sounded out by experts, including Professor Desmond O'Neill, a leading international researcher in ageing and neuroscience [9].


Like the spike

A single electrical impulse, taking just 2.1 seconds to travel through our brain, sends blips of voltage through our sensory and motor regions.

These blips (known as ‘spikes’ by scientists), the actions they trigger and the mysteries surrounding them are among the current hot topics at the UK’s science charity, The Royal Institution. 

Chair in Computational Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham, Mark Humphries, takes us on ‘An Epic Journey Through the Brain in 2.1 Seconds’ to explore ‘The Spike’ and its facets [10]. (Fee – pay what you can)


The art of calm

UK not-for-profit, the Mindfulness Centre of Excellence in London advocate martial arts to manage everyday stressors, thereby aiding brain health.

And to illustrate how martial arts can help, the centre’s Dr Tamara Russell has compiled a 30-minute video suitable for all ages and abilities to illustrate how to train the body gently with movements based on tai chi and chi kung [11]. (Fee: £5)

On 17 and 24 March, brain tumour charity, Brainstrust will be offering guidance for people living with a brain tumour on dealing with anxiety and letting go of the past.

Practical tools and techniques and ‘a journey through hypnosis’s neuroscience are on offer at the free ‘Calmness and Connectivity’ webinars [12].


Pain gains


   Chronic pain affects up to 20% of the adult population and can occur in the presence or absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage.   

Dr Kirsty Bannister


On 18 March, neuroscientist Dr Kirsty Bannister, who heads the Bannister lab group at King’s College London, reveals the latest novel and effective pain relief findings. 

And she’ll be asking why, after big improvements in our understanding of pain physiology, clinical needs still aren’t being met [13].


Healing arts

Learn more about art therapy, its history, and applications within neurological therapy practices in a free webinar presented by Reiki teacher Kubi May [14]. (Fee: £10)

Occupational therapists have used arts and crafts to enhance brain injury rehabilitation since the origins of the profession [15].

In her two-hour webinar, Kubi shows how they can be used to help individuals:

  • Regulate mood and behaviour.
  • Explore emotions.
  • Facilitate creative and effective communication skills.


Further reading

Crafts to support neurological occupational therapy and brain-injury rehabilitation


200 Home activities for brain injury survivors and their families

Over 30 online communities to help keep spirits high among brain injury survivors and their families during the covid19 lockdown

Twenty apps to boost brain injury rehabilitation

Waltz with us on world stroke day

How to enjoy a daily dose of exercise despite brain injury