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Summer Studentships 2021 Will Hunt

Researcher: Will Hunt

Location: Cardiff University

2021 Summer Studentship winner Will Hunt, studying at Cardiff University, was awarded £2,500 for his project to review the use of computer models in published neuroscience research.

The problem

Neuroscience is an area of biomedical research where we know some human conditions are not naturally occurring in animals, and therefore promising research findings are often not translating into progress in the understanding of human diseases or progression in treatments. The continued popularity of animal-based research in some of these areas raises both ethical and scientific concerns. Will agrees and says it inspired him to develop the idea for his summer project.

“Since starting my placement year, I have gained a better appreciation for the vast use of animals in scientific research, especially within behavioural neuroscience. This has motivated me to explore and investigate the methods being developed in an attempt to replace animal models. In particular, I came across in silico human-based computer models in research that are reported to produce results consistent with, or better than animal models.”

Will Hunt

The project

Will’s project was to review the use of computer modelling and Artificial Intelligence across 144 published neuroscience research projects between 2011 and 2021. He presented and discussed the results, including the limitations of these models but also areas where they are being developed currently to address these.

Education and Outreach Manager Amy Beale explained:

“Around 250,000 scientific procedures are carried out on animals including mice, rats and fish, annually for the purpose of researching the nervous system. We know from the evidence that, despite this research, advances in treatments in, for example, neurodegenerative conditions have been minimal at best. Computer modelling offers the potential to use existing data to mimic and predict the functioning of complex organs such as the brain. The more data and knowledge we have to drive predictive models such as these, the more accurate they will become. Systematic reviews and literature searches are key skills for researchers. This project was a great opportunity for Will to develop his searching and reviewing skills and produce a nice overview of the field of computer based neuroscience research.”

Amy Beale

Newspapers in a stack
The potential

An important skill for any researcher is knowing how to review the body of existing evidence to help formulate a plan to address a research question. Literature reviews and systematic reviews are two ways of doing this. Literature reviews consider all published work in a particular area, whilst systematic reviews are a more carefully planned, comprehensive review that aims to take into account unpublished evidence as well. Searching for and through research in this way is key, particularly when researchers are considering animal research.

Download the full report: Using Computer Models as a Method of Replacing Animals in Neuroscience Research

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