Understanding brain function and disease
Our neuroscience theme combines three strands of research which simultaneously study the brain at a cellular level, its higher-level neural processing, and the possibilities for translating basic science into treatments for disease
The brain is arguably the most complex system in the human body, so a multi-tiered approach to understanding it is crucial, and our research considers brain function at all stages, from embryonic neuronal development to the mechanisms responsible for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Our cellular-level research provides fundamental building blocks that allow us to understand how cells of the nervous system are generated, how they migrate into position and differentiate to assemble into neuronal circuits. In particular, our researchers are working to understand the genetic and environmental interactions which encode brain function in particular cortical regions, as well as seeking to identify the function of many brain cells which remain poorly understood. Building on our cellular studies, systems-level research of the brain seeks to understand how neural circuits give rise to behaviour. Our research is particularly focussed on perception, using a multidisciplinary approach to understand the functional organization and plasticity of the brain, relating to functions such as hearing, vision and decision making in both humans and relevant animals models. Elsewhere, recently developed optogenetic manipulation techniques allow us to probe and analyse neural circuits, and understand their impact on behaviour. While such research is not explicitly translational, its findings are of increasing interest to clinicians hoping to understand patient perception of disease and illness.
Finally, our disease-focused studies seek to translate this basic science into treatments. With the majority of neurodegenerative disease currently poorly treatable and increasingly common, our research tackles the problems at its roots. Working with patients and animal models, our studies employ a broad range of biological techniques, from imaging to genetic analysis, to understand the development of illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's and motor neuron disease. The approach is working, too: our pioneering Parkinson’s research is shedding much new light on the disease’s development, and we have developed genetic treatments for the neuromuscular disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy that are in late-stage clinical trials.
By tying together these three strands of research, we hope to achieve an unparalleled understanding of brain function and disease.