Inside the brain of The Brain Prize winner 2016 - getting to know Graham Collingridge

A member of Hello Bio's Scientific Advisory Board, Professor Graham Collingridge is a member of the Faculty of 1000 and a former president of the British Neuroscience Association. He is a co winner of The Brain Prize 2016 - regarded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for neuroscientists. This award recognises one or more scientists who have distinguished themselves by an outstanding contribution to neuroscience. He studies synaptic plasticity, in particular long-term potentiation and long-term depression, in health and disease models. Here he tells Hello Bio a little bit about himself and his win...Professor Graham Collingridge, winner of The Brain Prize 2016

Can you tell us about your current position and how long you’ve been there?

I am the Chair of Physiology and the University of Toronto and also a senior investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada. I have been in Toronto since September 2015. I also retain a position as Professor of Neuroscience in Anatomy at the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the University of Bristol, UK.

You’ve won The Brain Prize, with Professors Morris and Bliss – how did you feel when you found out you’d won?

A mixture of being shocked and delighted. I never expected such recognition.

Here’s a tricky one - can you describe what Long Term Potentiation is, in just 20 words?

A long-lasting increase in the strength of synapses, the point of contact between brain cells, where memories are stored.

And for our expert customers – can you give a little more detailed description of the work that you have done, that led to your win?

It all started when I was a postdoc in Vancouver, Canada working in the laboratory of the late Hugh McLennan. Shortly after I arrived a visiting scientist there demonstrated long-term potentiation (LTP) to me and I was hooked. I knew then that I wanted to work on this phenomenon. Jeff Watkins, a chemist working at the University of Bristol, had discovered the NMDA receptor and had made a highly specific NMDA antagonist, D-AP5 (also known as D-APV). He kindly gave me some and on my return to Vancouver I tested the hypothesis that the NMDA receptor may be the trigger for the induction of LTP. It was, and my career pathway was set - to work out the mechanism.

What are you passionate about, both in your work and away from the lab?

Doing impactful science, training students and postdocs and building infrastructures to support the scientific research. Outside the lab - mountains (skiing and snowboarding) and Tottenham Hotspur football (soccer) club.

What does a typical day involve for you?

No two days are ever the same.

Where does your funding come from and are there differences to how you secure finding now to how you succeeded in the past?

My UK lab is funded by the MRC, BBSRC and EU. My new Canadian lab is funded by start-up funding from the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. In the past I wrote very few grants and these were usually funded. Now that funding is much more difficult to secure I spend far longer writing grants and have a much lower success rate. I feel that this is time wasted - time that cannot be spent advancing research. It’s frustrating to say the least.

Is there anything that drives you mad when you hear it used to describe your research?

When people say that the work we are doing is just filling in the details!

If you had one thing that you could ensure people understand about your research, what would it be?

Working on synaptic plasticity is important not just for understanding learning and memory but also for many diseases that involve cognitive deficits, ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to autism.

Can you give any advice or pearls of wisdom for new post-docs who are just starting their careers?

Follow your curiosity and be passionate about what you do.

Inspired and want to find out more about glutamate receptors and synaptic plasticity? Our mini-reviews, pathways and product guides may be of help - they include mini-reviews on NMDA and mGlu receptors, and a pathway poster on Major signaling mechanisms involved in mGlu5 and mGlu1 LTD. You can also browse our full range of research tools for neuroscience, glutamate and GABA receptors.