In June, Robert F. Halliwell, PhD, professor of physiology and pharmacology, traveled to Khouribga, Morocco, which lies 80 miles southeast of Casablanca. He was invited to give two lectures at the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) School of Neuroscience. He presented “Exploring Human Stem Cell-Derived Neurons for Neuropsychiatric Drug Discovery and Safety Testing” and “A Neuroscientist’s View of How to Maintain a Healthy Brain Without Really Trying.”
The conference brought together experts in the field of neuroscience from Canada, England, France, Morocco and the United States to share their knowledge and research. The conference focused on brain injuries and related disorders. The five-day event was organized by the African Regional Committee of IRBO, the Sultan Moulay Slimane University, located in Beni Mellal, Morocco, and the Office Cherifien des Phosphates, a Morocco-based phosphate international export company.
The researchers interacted with doctoral students from a dozen African countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Zambia. During the conference, students had the opportunity to attend 16 lectures on the consequences of brain damage at the cellular and molecular level. Students learned about research models, diagnostic techniques and innovative therapies. They also had the opportunity to attend technical workshops where they watched demonstrations of the tools used to evaluate the effects of brain damage.
“One of the advantages of having colleagues in Africa is that I can get a broader perspective on neuropsychiatric diseases and their prevalence and get access to materials not available here.”
Dr. Halliwell has been a member of the IBRO since 1997 when he was elected to the British Neuroscience Association National Committee in London. He served as a speaker and organizer at previous IBRO School of Neuroscience events held in Nairobi, Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa. He explained that seeking answers to complex questions, such as how the brain stores information or the basis of depression, requires a collaborative, international approach.
“One of the advantages of having colleagues in Africa is that I can get a broader perspective on neuropsychiatric diseases and their prevalence and get access to materials not available here,” Dr. Halliwell said. “For example, in the past we have looked at some unique medicinal plant extracts from Africa for anticonvulsant activity.” On this latest trip, he learned about advancements in treating the brain after a stroke or spinal cord injury. “I might also welcome new students from Africa to my lab in the near future,” he said. Dr. Halliwell and his research team are exploring novel ways to protect the brain from stroke.
Dr. Halliwell is grateful for the opportunity to network with neuroscientists from around the world while experiencing the vibrant cultures and natural beauty of the African countries he visited. “Africa is a vast continent with amazing people and incredible nature and wildlife,” he said. “I’ve seen lions and giraffes in the Nairobi National Park, visited the notorious prison on Robben Island that once held Nelson Mandela, eaten crocodile and zebra in sub-Saharan Africa, watched the sun set over the Atlas Mountains and drank mint tea in Marrakech.”
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold