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The Ageing and Dementia Group take Eyes, Genes and Brains to Brighton Science Festival




This weekend a group of academics from the Ageing and Dementia Group, School of Psychology at Sussex University will be getting involved at the Bright Sparks weekend as part of Brighton’s Science Festival. The group will present a stall focusing on the relationship between our genes and our mental abilities and how we can measure this using very simple physiological responses.


Interactive demonstrations will be available. The relationship between cognitive effort and pupil size will be elegantly demonstrated using eye-tracking software, with volunteers able to directly observe the relationship between effort on an attention measure and fluctuations in pupil size. Parents take on kids in the Rapid Visual Processing task challenge, a measure of how well we can sustain our attention across time. Through this, the group will demonstrate how our cognitive abilities change with age.


Additionally, the stall will feature arts and crafts for children, including origami DNA, inflatable double helixes and even the opportunity to create a hat that puts a brain on the outside of your skull. Hats come in adult sizes too.


We hope you all come along and bring the family to what we are sure will be a great weekend. The event will run from 10am til 5pm on both Saturday and Sunday, at Hove Park Upper School.


For more details visit the website:

Next generation of dementia scientists to explore genetic risk of Alzheimer’s



A gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 10 times will be the focus of a new research centre at the University of Sussex launched today (Thursday 5 February).

Funded by Alzheimer’s Society and matched funding, the new Doctoral Training Centre will support eight PhD students over five years to research the effects of the APOE4 gene.

Carriers of this gene have increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, although not all people with the gene develop the condition, and not all people with Alzheimer’s have the gene.

The students funded through the centre will explore how this gene affects the brain at all ages, in particular how it affects key parts of the brain associated with memory and learning, why the proteins made by this gene are different and how they potentially can be altered.

The centre is being led by biochemist Professor Louise Serpell, who is investigating toxic particles that cause degeneration in brain cells, and psychologist Professor Jennifer Rusted, whose research  looks at the gene-environment interplay in cognitive ageing.

Professor Rusted said: “The Alzheimer’s Society Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Sussex will provide a great opportunity to enhance the research into the causes of and treatments for this devastating disease that is already being carried out in the Schools of Psychology and Life Sciences.”

Professor Serpell said: “We are honoured to accept this award from Alzheimer’s Society and to be able to play a major part in the international focus to understand and tackle the challenges of this disease.”

The Doctoral Training Centre is funded by a £350,000 grant from Alzheimer’s Society and matched funding leveraged as a result of the Society’s investment, from the Sussex Doctoral School and the Schools of Life Sciences and Psychology at the University.

Sussex philanthropist and businessman Michael Chowen CBE, who has made a substantial gift to the centre, said: “Having supported both Professor Serpell’s and Professor Rusted's pioneering research on Alzheimer's disease for some time, I am delighted that I have been able to contribute towards the new Doctoral Training Centre.

"I wish them, and the colleagues and students who will be engaged in this Doctoral Centre with them, every success in their efforts to combat this cruel disease.”

Professor Michael Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), said: “We are delighted to be working with Alzheimer’s Society on dementia research and for the Society’s recognition of the quality of our doctoral provision in the Schools of Life Sciences and Psychology.”

The Sussex centre is one of eight new specialist centres around the country that are being co-ordinated and funded by Alzheimer’s Society. With additional funding from institutions, this represents nearly £5 million in new investment to support 55 PhDs and clinical fellows – the single biggest funding commitment to support early-career dementia researchers in the UK.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “There’s a huge amount of progress being made by the dementia research community but unless we attract and train the best young talent we will limit how quickly we can make ground-breaking discoveries. For too long dementia research has been underfunded and as a result we have significantly fewer scientists than other conditions.”

Bright Sparks Weekend 2015



On February 14th and 15th, the Ageing and Dementia Group took their knowledge and favourite experimental tasks to Hove Park Upper School for the Bright Sparks Weekend. The Bright Sparks weekend included a variety of University groups and societies from around the South East of the country, and we were excited to be a part of this exciting event.

The Brighton Science Festival has been growing in popularity across the last few years, and we feel this weekend really demonstrated what a huge success this event has become. The weekend was busy, full of enthusiastic children and even more enthusiastic parents, and a constant flow of visitors kept the presenters at the event constantly on their feet.

Our Stall, the Genes, Eyes and Brains stand, centred upon two interactive tasks.

Sam Hutton demonstrated the latest eye-tracking technology in a display of the direct relationship between cognitive effort and pupil size. Volunteers were able to watch their pupil size change in real-time in response to an attention task of varying difficulty, providing neat, memorable evidence for how our cognition directly relates to our physiological responses.

Visitors to the event also had the opportunity to participate in a classic measure of sustained attention, the rapid visual processing task. Children were asked to battle it out with their parents for a place at the top of the leaderboard. The research group was hoping performance on this task across the different age groups would provide a neat demonstration of attention declining with increasing age. However, across the weekend we saw the parents massively triumph over the youngsters, contrary to expectations. We suspect this may be due to an overload of sherbet and an exciting, noisy environment on the kids’ part.

The selection of crafty activities available on the stall was also a hit, with many children to be spotted around the event sporting homemade brain caps. Hopefully some knowledge was also taken away from the event, with the children being encouraged to understand the principles of genetic inheritance through simple origami, posters and quiz sheets. More importantly, hopefully an enthusiasm for science was generated by the event, and both children and parents will be encouraged to think of scientific research as something important and exciting.

Finally, we would like to thank everybody for the wonderful feedback we received. The weekend had a great atmosphere and the group looks forward to getting involved with similar activities in the future.

 Please see our new lab blog for pictures of the event:


Understanding risk factors for dementia across the lifespan



 It is inevitable that we all show a slight decline in our cognitive abilities with increasing age, but what causes some of us to ‘drop-off’ to a greater degree than others? This question is a key focus of the Rusted lab group, with much of our research targeting the APOE gene, strongly associated with both cognitive decline and risk of dementia. The APOE gene has attracted considerable research attention due to its apparent contradictory effect across the lifespan. Studies have suggested a cognitive advantage in younger years for carriers of the APOE e4 variant, in contrast to its detrimental effect in later life. As such, understanding the trajectory of this gene across the lifespan is important for advancing what we know about the pathway into dementia.

 Claire Lancaster, a first year PhD student in the Rusted lab, is currently examining this important question. Healthy adults aged 45-55 years are being invited to participate in an exploration of how attention and executive functioning differs in mid-adulthood according to APOE genotype. Using a battery of different cognitive measures, subtle differences in these processes can be identified. It is likely that some cognitive processes are more important determinants of cognitive ageing than others – for example, changes in speed of processing can affect performance across a number of tasks, whereas changes in visuospatial skills would only affect specific tasks.  By identifying the specific nature of the APOE e4 effect on cognition, we can predict its broader impact on performance. In addition to a strong behavioural focus, our work will consider individual differences in biological factors (weight, blood pressure, grip strength, alcohol intake and exercise) and lifestyle factors (occupation, education and leisure activities). The research includes these measures in the study to explore how multiple vulnerability factors for cognitive decline interact with APOE status in healthy adults.

 Volunteers are still being recruited for the research. If you are interested in participating, please contact Claire for more details (, 01273 678916). 

Jenny Rusted's Lab Group website.

Jenny Rusted's Lab Blog.

International collaboration- members of the Rusted Lab group make friends with Sao Paulo



International collaboration- members of the Rusted Lab group make friends with Sao Paulo

Two members of the Rusted lab group, Simon Evans and Claire Lancaster, visited Brazil for a week this April. Sounds like a holiday, but this trip was part of a specially formed scheme to encourage international research collaborations, funded by Santander Mobility Grants scheme.

The trip centred around a visit to Sao Paulo, hosted by Sabine Pompeia, an associate Professor of Psychobiology at the Federal University of Sao Paulo. We were welcomed by her lab group on the Monday and the first thing that struck us was their enthusiasm for research. Many excellent talks were delivered during our visit, but the work of three researchers stood out in terms of the exciting opportunities present for future international collaboration.


Fifteen years previously, Sabine had spent time working in the Rusted lab in Sussex. Her current research is concerned with developing tasks that explore executive functioning – our capacity to multi-task. Although much of her research has applied this battery to specific populations, she has also been involved in large Brazilian epidemiological studies. As part of future joint work between the Rusted and Pompeia groups, we hope to explore the role of the APOE gene, a genetic risk factor for dementia, on executive function at different stages of development.

We were also introduced to Andre Negrao, a clinical academic from the Genetic and Molecular Cardiology lab. Andre is currently researching the genetic, biological and cognitive profile of the population of Baependi, a town of 18,000 in south-east Brazil. This town is of interest due to the mix of urban and rural people living there, and the diverse range of educational and SES backgrounds. In the future, we hope to work with Andre and his team combining our joint interests in genetic differences in brain structure and function , and cognition.

Future collaborations with Monica Yassuda are also in the pipeline. Monica is a practicing neuropsychiatrist and academic at the University of Sao Paulo, typically working with more elderly populations, especially those with MCI.

One of the most important things we took away from our time in Sao Paulo was the problem administering tasks cross-culturally. Measures well-established in one country may not necessarily be suitable for administration in others. For example, using the word ‘snow’ as a stimuli in a language-based task is not so simple as it sounds. In some countries snow is a very common word, in others it is rarely used. Brazil is a country with a diverse profile of socio-economic and educational backgrounds, and as such cognitive tests need to be designed to suit varying rates of literacy. A major focus within the lab group we visited was modifying cognitive tasks for use in Brazil, thinking of clever adaptations to make them free of reading and writing requirements and accessible for all. These are important considerations for us to bear in mind when designing future collaborations.

But the trip was a wonderful insight into the culture of another country and we would like to thank our wonderful host Sabine for taking us round the city, and her team for welcoming us to the University. We would also like to thank Santander for the opportunity their funds provided, and Dr Paul Roberts at the Doctoral School for supporting the application.

Sabine Pompeia’s homepage 

Rusted Lab website