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Deniz Gursul won the Inez Oliver Prize for an outstanding essay on how brain imaging is used for measuring pain in babies, and how it can assist in developing pain relief measures.

Deniz Gursul, a DPhil researcher with the Paediatric Neuroimaging Group, studies how infants respond to necessary clinical procedures – e.g. blood tests, lumbar punctures, immunisations – and whether these responses can be modulated by potential analgesics.

The Inez Oliver Prize is awarded by St Cross College, which Deniz is a member of. The prize is presented to a St Cross student for producing an exceptional essay, “with a preference for a topic relating to a subject benefitting humanity in an innovative way”. Due to its nature, Deniz’s doctoral project fitted the theme perfectly.

“My research is unique, and it attracts a lot of public interest” says Deniz. “I am very pleased to work on a topic that is so clinically applicable.” Deniz applies electroencephalography (EEG), a non-invasive brain imaging technology, to monitor the brain activity of babies. EEG outputs can show patterns of brain activity specifically related to pain, and Deniz uses them to investigate the efficacy of potential analgesics. In particular, her work explores the effectiveness of non-pharmacological pain relief measures, such as gentle touch. Researching such methods is especially important in the case of infants, as non-pharmacological intervention is easy to implement and does not cause side effects.

In her winning essay, Deniz provides a historical perspective on the topic of infant pain, and details the current developments in the field, including her own research focus.

Apart from being a successful researcher, Deniz is also heavily involved in leadership and outreach work – she sits on the Paediatrics Graduate Studies Committee and the Events Committee, she co-organised the 2018 Medical Sciences Division Graduate Day, and she has presented her research at numerous events, including Cheltenham Science Festival. Deniz has also recently been awarded a grant to attend a conference on the study of pain in Boston. In her spare time, she enjoys dancing and Zumba.

The Inez Oliver Prize has been established thanks to a generous donation from Green Templeton College Alumnus Paul Oliver in honour of his wife Inez to celebrate their 30th Wedding Anniversary.