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Ruxandra Dafinca and Linxin Li
Ruxandra Dafinca and Linxin Li

The health of our brains is complex and can face many challenges over the lifespan. Whether it be a mental illness or a neurodegenerative disease, the need to improve treatment and care of such conditions is growing rapidly.
A donation of $2 million has enabled the University of Oxford to set up the Fellowship of Brain Science to support researchers tackling some of these brain health challenges. The donors wanted to help talented individuals who, having taken breaks from their research due to personal circumstances, would benefit significantly from dedicated support to pursue their research goals.

Thanks to their generosity, four fellowships have now been awarded to outstanding scientists in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the Department of Psychiatry. The successful applicants demonstrated the difference the fellowship would make to their career trajectory, as well as innovation and originality in their research and leadership potential. The new fellows and the areas of research they will drive forward are:

  • Ruxandra Dafinca: Using optogenetics (a way of controlling the activity of neurons using light) to learn more about the role of mitochondria (structures within cells that convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use) in patients with ALS, the most common form of motor neurone disease
  • Linxin Li: Understanding stroke risk in younger people
  • Andrea Reinecke: Treating social anxiety in young people
  • Sana Suri: Reviewing how heart and brain disease risk might be understood for different ethnicities
This generous donation fills a gap in providing support for promising scientists who, because of extenuating circumstances, may need to build their research portfolio be competitive for national research funding schemes. Previously we had no way of supporting these individuals to stay in Oxford, with a risk that they are lost from academia altogether.
- Professor Kevin Talbot, Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences

It is hoped that the new fellowships will inspire others to support science leaders of the future by enabling them to navigate the crucial, yet often precarious, early- and mid-stages of their careers. 

Ruxandra Dafinca, Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow, said: 'I am very excited about receiving the Brain Science Fellowship. At this stage of my career, the fellowship provides me with the perfect platform to start my independent research programme and progress in a new area where I will explore mechanistic questions in neuronal degeneration in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and other neurodegenerative disorders characterized by synaptic transmission deficits. This award is an ideal opportunity for me to focus on developing new expertise and establishing new collaborations, which will be key to my career plans and research vision.'

Linxin Li, Clinical Research Fellow, said: 'The fellowship is extremely timely to allow me to continue with the exciting journey I have just started on strokes at younger ages. It also gives me the time and space to transit into research independence more smoothly. I'm sure the skills, experience and expertise that I will acquire and develop during the fellowship will also prepare me for applying for further external funding in the near future.'

Oxford's neuroscience research is conducted across various departments based at several University sites, including the John Radcliffe and Warneford Hospitals. A number of world-leading multidisciplinary centres bring together a diverse range of expertise to target some of the most challenging disorders. Key research areas in which the University has a critical mass of multidisciplinary researchers include: cognition, dementia, chronobiology, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

For more information about making a gift or leaving a legacy to support Oxford's neuroscience research, please contact Beatrice Smith, Senior Development Executive for Medical Sciences, at