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The Bill Bowman Prize Lecture: How the Brain Talks to Itself

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Published: 14 Aug 2019
Category: Meetings update

On the evening of 19 February 2019, the Glasgow Pharmacological Society (GPS) hosted the British Pharmacological Society’s Bill Bowman Prize Lecture , awarded to Dr Caroline Copeland of St George’s, University of London. Caroline’s lecture, entitled “How the Brain Talks to Itself: A Journey Around the Thalamocortical Loop” was received by an enthusiastic audience of schoolchildren, students, post-docs and academic staff. 

The history of the Bill Bowman Prize Lecture 

The Bill Bowman Prize Lecture was created to honour the contribution of Bill Bowman to the British Pharmacological Society and to pharmacology teaching and research. Bill was born in Carlisle in 1930 and, inspired by his pharmacist father, began his academic career with a first-class degree specialising in pharmacology, from the London School of Pharmacy. This was followed by a PhD from the University of Oxford, where he studied the effects of sympathomimetic amines on skeletal muscle contractility. After completing his National Service (young people, ask your great-grandparents) he returned to the School of Pharmacy as a Lecturer. In 1966, Bill became the founding head of the Department of Pharmacology in Strathclyde University, which then became the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and is now within the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences (SIPBS). At Strathclyde, Bill played a pivotal role in improving our understanding of how muscle-relaxing agents work and developing safer and shorter-acting drugs. Collaboration with Organon Laboratories led to the identification, development of vecuronium and rocuronium, two of the most extensively used muscle relaxants in anaesthetic practice. As a result, it is claimed that “anyone who has had a general anaesthetic in the last 40 years has reason to be grateful to Bill Bowman”.  

As well as carrying out  ground-breaking research, Bill, along with his great friend, Mike Rand, also wrote ‘Textbook of Pharmacology’, which became the standard pharmacology textbook for students for many years. It was published throughout the world, and was widely known as Bowman and Rand, except in Portugal, where to Bill’s great delight, it was known as Rand y Bowman. His contribution to pharmacology was recognised by the British Pharmacological Society, first by the establishment the Bill Bowman Travelling Lectureship in 1995 and then by his election to the Pharmacology Hall of Fame in 2014. 


The GPS was formed 3 years ago, with the support of an Ambassador’s educational grant from the British Pharmacological Society and is led by students and staff from Glasgow’s three universities, Glasgow, Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian. Its aim is to promote pharmacology and to be a support network for pharmacologists in Glasgow. Thus far, annual lectures have been delivered by Professors Humphrey Rang, Steve Hill and David Nutt and we also hosted the 2018 Bill Bowman Prize Lecturer, Aisah Aubdool, of the William Harvey Institute, who told us about her studies on the effects of Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide in the cardiovascular system. 

Caroline Copeland 


Caroline obtained a BSc (Honours) in Pharmacology, then a PhD in Neuropharmacology from University College London. This was followed by two years as a postdoctoral research associate at Imperial College London, where she developed 2 photon calcium imaging strategies in the sensory cortex. Currently, she is a Lecturer in Neuropharmacology at the Institute of Medical and Biomedical Education at St George’s, where she is setting up her first research lab.  

The venue for Caroline’s Bill Bowman lecture was SIPBS at Strathclyde University. She began by explaining that the focus of her research is mechanisms of thalamocortical synchrony and that her approach is to analyse the discrete components that make up thalamic and cortical circuits, using both in vitro and in vivo electrophysiology approaches, and ultimately, optogenetics. She is particularly interested in the neuronal mechanisms that underlie synchronous activity in the thalamus, cortex, and massively interconnected thalamocortical system, hence the title of her talk, “How the Brain Talks to Itself: A Journey Around the Thalamocortical Loop”. She then described how these mechanisms underlie multimodal processes ranging from sensory perception, to cognition and attention. As well as presenting her cutting-edge research data, Caroline offered career advice to young scientists, based on her own experiences so far. This was much appreciated by the many undergraduate and postgraduate students in the audience. 

The lecture was followed by a busy question and answer session, then, suitably inspired, the audience moved to the departmental social area, where brains talked to each other over drinks and snacks. Thanks go to Abdullah Alzahrani, a PhD student in SIPBS, for introducing the lecture, Andreea-Denisa Croitoru, Agata Strunzova, undergraduates in SIPBS, for chairing the question session, all of the students from Glasgow, Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian Universities who helped to organise and promote the event, the British Pharmacological Society for financial support and of course, to Caroline for delivering an excellent talk. 



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Published: 14 Aug 2019
Category: Meetings update

About the author

Charles Kennedy 

Charles has a BSc (Hons) in Pharmacology from Aberdeen University and a PhD from UCL, where he worked with Professor Geoffrey Burnstock on the division of P2 receptors into the P2X and P2Y subtypes. Following postdoctoral positions at Michigan State University and as a Beit Research Memorial Fellow at Cambridge University, he joined Strathclyde University, where he is a Reader. 
His research focuses on the pharmacological properties and physiological and pathophysiological functions of P2X and P2Y receptors. Charles is a past editor of the BJP, chairs the IUPHAR P2X receptor nomenclature sub-committee and sits on the P2Y receptor sub-committee. 

Yvonne Dempsie

Yvonne graduated from the University of Glasgow with a BSc (Hons) Pharmacology before gaining her PhD from the University of Nottingham. Yvonne then moved back to Glasgow to work as post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Professor Mandy MacLean before taking up a lectureship at Glasgow Caledonian University. Yvonne’s research focuses on finding novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. Yvonne is the British Pharmacological Society’s Ambassador for the Glasgow area and started the Glasgow Pharmacological Society with funding from the Ambassadors scheme.

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