Ph.D Neuroscience, 2010
The Last Frontier
by Deborah Melman-Clement
Ian Cameron likes to think of himself as a pioneer. And he'd be right. His pioneering ways began in 2004, when he was among the first students accepted into the graduate program at the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen's University.
A graduate of the Queen's undergraduate program in Life Sciences, Cameron had always been drawn to sciences in general. His attraction to neurosciences comes equally naturally. "At around the time I was wrapping up my undergrad degree, my grandfather was diagnosed with a neurological disorder," he explains.
Cameron's grandfather had Dementia with Lewy Bodies, a debilitating condition similar to Parkinson's disease which also affects memory and decision-making abilities. "It was a real eye opener for me," he says. "It made me realize that we really don't know much about the brain at all."
Cameron refers to the brain as "one of the last frontiers of biology," and given his pioneering ways, it was only natural that he felt compelled to explore it. The Centre for Neuroscience Studies, he says, is the perfect place for that exploration. "It's great for me to be in a department that is versatile and covers a lot of disciplines."
The Centre for Neuroscience Studies combines studies in biology, chemistry, physiology and psychology, among other disciplines, to provide students with an understanding of the brain and how it works. "It's a very exciting field to be in," Cameron says. "There are so many questions that are just waiting to be answered."
"I've been learning a lot about how the brain works," he continues. "It's amazing to me that even simple actions are incredibly complex."
Cameron has been studying those complex actions by focusing on eye movements. Using a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine, he records people's eye movements to gain insight into which regions of the brain control activities. "We're trying to design eye movement tasks that are representative of complex movements," he explains. "Then we can extrapolate from there and learn more about how we control our behaviour."
He believes his research can be applied to conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, which impede people's ability to perform goal-directed tasks. "Using cameras to record eye movements is one of the best, most accurate ways to record movements and scan the brain at the same time," he says. "The possibilities are almost limitless."
Once he earns his doctorate, Cameron will begin a fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, where he will work with a functional MRI machine to target subjects' frontal lobes. He plans to combine this research with his current research on eye movement to enhance his knowledge and help diagnose brain ailments.
"My plan is to stay in a university setting," he says, "but many of my colleagues are taking other routes. They're looking at working in industry or medicine. There are so many options. It really is an untapped frontier."