Research Fellow at the Laboratory of Physiology (1977-85)
Professor Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE, FRCP (Hon) joined the Laboratory of Physiology in 1977 to work with Professor John Stein following the completion of her DPhil in the Department of Pharmacology. She soon undertook visiting fellowships at the College de France Paris and NYU Medical Center New York, before returning to the Department for a Medical Research Council Training Fellowship. Here, she started her first independent laboratory in the Sherrington building with two undergraduate dissertation students, and started the research that was to occupy her career to date, born from the idea that cholinesterase (a family of enzymes present in the central nervous system) could have novel functions. Her major discovery at the Department was use electrophysiology to show that cholinesterase was bioactive in a new way. Professor Greenfield also identified the origin of cholinesterase as the nigra, which is the area lost in Parkinson’s. This discovery led her to explore novel brain mechanisms linked to neurodegeneration, specifically to identify what part of the cholinesterase molecule was responsible for the unusual signalling found in disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
In 1985, Professor Greenfield was appointed University Lecturer in Synaptic Pharmacology, and Fellow and Tutor in Medicine at Lincoln College, before promotion to a University Professorship in 1996. From 1998 to 2010, she served as Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the first woman to be appointed to the position. In 2013, she founded biotech company Neuro-Bio to develop a disruptive approach to Alzheimer’s based on her research into why only certain cells die in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. She had developed the idea that neurodegeneration is an inappropriate form of development, determining that the vulnerable cells develop in the basal plate in the embryo and retain their ability to develop. When these particular cells are damaged, they retaliate by attempting to grow again and mobilise pathological mechanisms driven by a key pivotal toxic peptide (T14). Professor Greenfield and her team at Neuro-Bio have been working to develop a drug to block T14, which has recently been shown to be effective in animal Alzheimer’s models.
Professor Greenfield’s work has been recognised by numerous awards and accolades including a CBE in the Millennium New Year’s Honours List, Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians (2000), a non-political Life Peerage (2001), the Golden Plate Award (2003), the L’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (2003), Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2007), the Australian Medical Research Society Medal (2010) and Fellowship of the Science Museum (2010). In addition to her primary science, she also studies the physical basis of the mind, having published several books on the subject, including “The Human Brain: A Guided Tour” (1997), which is ranked in UK best-seller lists. She also carries out outreach work championing the cause for women in science, including authoring the Greenfield Report SET Fair: A Report on the Retention and Recruitment of Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology in 2002.