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World-leading neuroscience centre opens in US

The UCSF Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building will pioneer research and unite researchers globally

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The opening of one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive neuroscience centres has been hailed as helping to pave the way towards a “new era” of research. 

The UCSF Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building is part of a campus already home to Nobel-Prize winning research on the nervous system and brain and is hailed as a global destination for researchers to develop innovative treatments for intractable brain diseases.

The six-story building will be the new hub for the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences and the UCSF headquarters for the Weill Neurohub, a research collaboration with UC Berkeley and the University of Washington that was launched in 2019 to support groundbreaking, cross-campus research.

Together with the nearby Sandler Neurosciences Center, Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Hall, Genentech Hall, and soon-to-be-opened Nancy Friend Pritzker Psychiatry Building, the facility will bring together some of the most innovative researchers in the field.

The building will serve as a cornerstone of neurological care for UCSF Medical Center – recognised as the United States’ best hospital for neurology and neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report for 2021-22 – with specially designed clinical areas to serve up to 450 patients per day.

“This is a remarkable time for neuroscience,” said S. Andrew Josephson, professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Neurology and a member of the steering committee for the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. 

“The UCSF Weill Neurosciences Building will stand as a beacon of hope, striving to push the frontier of what we know about the brain and expand the possibilities for effective treatments.”

“The UCSF Weill Neurosciences Building is a place for patients with the most complex and challenging cases to receive expert care, and a place for researchers to find answers to the most perplexing neurological and psychiatric conditions,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood. 

“The building’s design will enable us to bring researchers and clinicians together with our patients, to continue to advance that care into the future.”

“Traditionally, neuroscience has been partitioned into sub-disciplines, working in relatively small labs with limited access to engineering and computational resources,” said Stephen Hauser, director of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, and professor of neurology.

 

“But big goals require close collaboration of large multidisciplinary teams. The UCSF Weill Neurosciences Building will enable widespread sharing of expertise, data and tools to tackle the big problems.”

The building provides space for multiple clinics and research centres, with dedicated laboratory areas integrated with engineering and computational research, to further our understanding of the brain’s complex biology and circuitry. It also has shared facilities for studying brain conditions caused by genetic diseases, as well as by autoimmune and infectious diseases.

The building was made possible by a $185 million gift in 2016 from Joan and Sanford “Sandy” I. Weill and the Weill Family Foundation. 

The gift – one of the largest in the United States for neuroscience – brought the Weills’ more than five decades of philanthropy to a total of more than $1 billion in support of medical, educational, cultural and art institutions.

That support included an additional $106 million to launch the Weill Neurohub, whose emphasis on collaboration across three top universities in neuroscience research enables the most innovative projects to tap into an unprecedented strength in the field.

“Joan and I are ecstatic about the completion and opening of the building, as it has been a labor of love for us and so many over the years. Our goal is to bring together the resources and talent to tackle the most debilitating neurologic disorders and mental diseases,” said Sandy Weill. 

“This is a challenge that can’t be solved by one person or even one institution, given the vast resources needed. 

“By partnering and bringing together the best and brightest in their respective fields and giving them the support and facilities they need, we believe they will have an enormous impact on improving the quality of people’s lives and curing the diseases that will present the biggest challenges to our country in the decades to come.”

That support has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people, Joan Weill added, noting the impact the Weills have already seen through the UCSF Weill Awards for high-risk, high-return research, which were funded through the Weills’ gift.

Neuropsychology

Video gaming ‘can increase cognitive ability in children’

Above-average time spent on video games can lead to an increase in IQ over time, a new study reveals

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Children who spend an above-average time playing video games can increase their cognitive ability, a new study has revealed. 

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have studied how the screen habits of children correlate with how their cognitive abilities develop over time. 

While they found that watching television or being on social media had neither a positive or negative effect, video gaming increased their intelligence more than average. 

On average, the children spent 2.5 hours a day watching TV, half an hour on social media and one hour playing video games. 

The results showed that those who played more games than the average increased their intelligence between the two measurements by approximately 2.5 IQ points more than the average. No significant effect was observed, positive or negative, of TV-watching or social media.

Over 9,000 boys and girls from the United States took part in the study, which saw them perform an array of psychological tests aged nine or ten to determine their cognitive abilities. 

The children and their parents were also asked about how much time the children spent watching TV and videos, playing video games and engaging with social media.

Just over 5,000 of the children were followed up after two years, at which point they were asked to repeat the psychological tests. This enabled the researchers to study how the children’s performance on the tests varied from one testing session to the other, and to control for individual differences in the first test. 

They also controlled for genetic differences that could affect intelligence and differences that could be related to the parents’ educational background and income.

“We didn’t examine the effects of screen behaviour on physical activity, sleep, wellbeing or school performance, so we can’t say anything about that,” says Torkel Klingberg, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. 

“But our results support the claim that screen time generally doesn’t impair children’s cognitive abilities, and that playing video games can actually help boost intelligence. This is consistent with several experimental studies of video-game playing.”

The results are also in line with recent research showing that intelligence is not a constant, but a quality that is influenced by environmental factors.

“We’ll now be studying the effects of other environmental factors and how the cognitive effects relate to childhood brain development,” says Prof Klingberg.

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Tech

GripAble praised by MP

Stephen Hammond MP hails its innovation and “extraordinary” success to date and potential

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The progress of GripAble has been hailed as “extraordinary” by its local MP, who praised its innovation and ongoing progress in transforming neurorehab and wider healthcare.

GripAble, the UK technology company digitising upper limb rehabilitation from hospital to home, welcomed Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, to its international sales and distribution centre.

Mr Hammond visited GripAble’s office in Wimbledon to learn how private equity investment has helped it to scale its industry-leading data platform and therapy services and expand GripAble into Europe and the US, as well as how an international company has successfully stemmed from the local business community. 

During his visit, the MP met the GripAble team and listened to a presentation by GripAble co-founder and CEO Dr Paul Rinne, who shared the background to GripAble and its growth story to date, as well as plans and ambitions for the future.

Prior to becoming an MP, Stephen Hammond worked for a leading fund management company and multiple investment banks, so was particularly interested in the funding GripAble has received to date, including the recent close of its $11m funding round. 

With more than 8,000 individuals having already used the platform, GripAble has established itself as a leading technology in the remote-rehab space in the UK, recording 100,000 activity sessions and 27 million movement repetitions across its users.

Stephen Hammond MP said: “GripAble proves that innovative companies of the future that are building products that will transform healthcare can be based anywhere, but I’m particularly proud that GripAble has started out in Wimbledon. 

“It’s been wonderful to see the development of the company over the last two years since first meeting Paul, and I’m sure the developments over the next three years will be equally extraordinary, particularly with the backing of private equity investment.”

Dr Rinne said: “Today’s visit was a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase GripAble’s story and vision to a Member of Parliament and explain how private equity investment can help UK-based entrepreneurs take ideas from seed stage through to global scaling, and compete on the international stage. 

“The investment we have received will accelerate GripAble’s journey to delivering end-to-end patient rehabilitation and connecting millions to their own personal home-based clinic. 

“With the backing of investors such as IP Group and Parkwalk, we will benefit from a wealth of insight and experience that will support us in growing our platform in the US and expanding our clinical and commercial evidence base. 

“It is great to be able to work with such supportive investors that make our lives so much easier.”

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Neuropsychology

Social media break ‘can improve mental health’

A one-week break can deliver improvements in wellbeing, anxiety and depression, research reveals

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A week-long break from social media could lead to significant improvements in wellbeing, depression and anxiety, and could potentially be recommended as a way to help people manage their mental health. 

A new study has looked at the effects of taking a break from social media, which for some participants meant sacrificing up to nine hours otherwise spent on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. 

The results of the research, from the University of Bath, suggest that after just one week, these individuals saw their overall level of wellbeing improve, as well as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Over the past 15 years, social media has revolutionised how we communicate, underscored by the huge growth the main platforms have observed. 

In the UK the number of adults using social media increased from 45 per cent in 2011 to 71 per cent in 2021. Among 16 to 44-year-olds, as many as 97 per cent of people use social media and scrolling is the most frequent online activity.

Lead researcher from Bath’s Department for Health, Dr Jeff Lambert, explains: “Scrolling social media is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the moment we wake up to when we close our eyes at night.

“We know that social media usage is huge and that there are increasing concerns about its mental health effects, so with this study, we wanted to see whether simply asking people to take a week’s break could yield mental health benefits.

“Many of our participants reported positive effects from being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall. This suggests that even just a small break can have an impact.

“Of course, social media is a part of life and for many people, it’s an indispensable part of who they are and how they interact with others. But if you are spending hours each week scrolling and you feel it is negatively impacting you, it could be worth cutting down on your usage to see if it helps.”

For the study, the researchers randomly allocated 154 individuals aged 18 to 72 who used social media every day into either an intervention group, where they were asked to stop using all social media for one-week or a control group, where they could continue scrolling as normal. 

At the beginning of the study, baseline scores for anxiety, depression and wellbeing were taken.

Participants reported spending an average of eight hours per week on social media at the start of the study. 

One week later, the participants who were asked to take the one-week break had significant improvements in wellbeing, depression, and anxiety than those who continued to use social media, suggesting a short-term benefit.

Participants asked to take a one-week break reported using social media for an average of 21 minutes compared to an average of seven hours for those in the control group. Screen usage stats were provided to check that individuals had adhered to the break.

The team now want to build on the study to see whether taking a short break can help different populations, such as younger people or people with physical and mental health conditions, who research shows can experience adverse effects at different times.

The team also want to follow people up for longer than one week, to see if the benefits last over time. If so, in the future, they speculate that this could form part of the suite of clinical options used to help manage mental health.

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