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The Oxford Centre for Gene Function was opened as a wing of the Sherrington Building in 2000, to facilitate the Department’s on-going strengths in functional genetics. Richard Attenborough was present at the opening of the centre.

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Richard Attenborough opening the Oxford Centre for Gene Function (left) and the Centre today (right)

In 2005, the Burdon Sanderson Cardiac Centre was established in a purpose-built wing of the Sherrington Building. It is dedicated to the science of normal and abnormal cardiac function. The aims of the centre are to understand the physiology of the heart at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels, and the neural control of cardiac activity. 

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The interior of the Burdon Sanderson Cardiac Centre

The Medical Sciences Division merged the Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics and the University Laboratory of Physiology to create the single Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics in 2006. The merger enabled the new Department to consolidate the research activities of the two former departments and created opportunities for new research alignments. 

The Department has had particular strengths in cell physiology, development & cell biology, neuroscience, metabolism & endocrinology, cardiac sciences, and functional genomics.

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The developing fish heart © Mathilda Mommersteeg

In 2007, Gero Miesenböck was appointed Waynflete Professor of Physiology, a position he still holds today. He is known as the founder of optogenetics, meaning that he was the first scientist to modify nerve cells genetically so that their electrical activity could be controlled with light. 

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Gero Miesenböck © Wikipedia

The Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour was opened in the Tinsley Building on Mansfield Road in 2011. The Centre is directed by Miesenböck, and continues his work of optogenetics on fruit flies, where physical events in nerve cells can be linked to higher brain function more easily than in other animals, in which either the behaviour is too simple or the brain structures are too complex. The aim therefore of the centre is to understand how intelligence emerges from such physical events in nerve cells.

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Rewarding (green) and motivating (blue) dopamine neurons both innervate the fly mushroom bodies (grey) © Wolf Huetteroth

Today, the Department continues to empower discovery in the physiological sciences; its innovative and internationally-renowned research intends to improve health as well as educate the next generation of doctors and scientists. Our wide-reaching research demonstrates our interdisciplinary commitment: from embryonic development, to the physiological processes of certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s Disease, to the way in which the brain understands information from our senses.

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Cerebral cortex (left) © Garcia Moreno, Parkinson's Disease (centre) © Richard Wade-Martins, and the part of the brain that understands the information from our sense of smell (right) © Francis Szele

< 20th century