Dr Betina Ip has been awarded a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship by the Royal Society, for her research ' Investigating the neurochemistry of human binocular perception and plasticity using advanced in vivo high field MR spectroscopy.’ The fellowship offers a recognised first step into an independent research career for outstanding post-doctoral scientists who need a flexible working pattern due to parenting or caring responsibilities.
Dr Ip’s award will support her research on neuroplasticity in the healthy and developmentally abnormal binocular visual system. Her research can inform treatments for ‘lazy eye’, the most common visual pathology in children that is associated with loss of normal binocular vision.
A better understanding on what promotes and limits plasticity in the brain is critical for treating neurodevelopmental disorders as well as for recovery from brain injury and disease. Animal studies have shown that the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA is an essential part of experience-dependent plasticity in the developing brain. Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, a non-invasive brain imaging technique, is the only method that can measure GABA levels in the living human brain. By being sensitive to the minute shifts in the magnetic resonance signal of protons generated by the chemical structure of metabolites, MRS detects and quantifies their concentrations.
Using this ‘chemical’ camera, a major goal of Betina’s research will be to take pictures of GABA concentrations in the visual cortex of participants who learn to see better using two eyes. Through this work, she aims to understand how the adult brain reorganises due to sensory experience.