Birkbeck research project will provide new insight into the ‘building blocks’ of our brains

A grant of £1.7 million will allow Professor Carolyn Moores to research disease-causing defects in neuronal function.

Professor Carolyn Moores from Birkbeck’s Department of Biological Sciences has been granted £1.7 million of funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC), for a project which will help to understand of the causes of dementia, stroke and physical injury to the nervous system.

Healthy brain function depends on neurons, the billions of specialised cells which make up our brains. These neurons need to be connected to each other correctly, and these connections must be carefully maintained. If neuron connectivity breaks down, people can experience severe medical problems such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders. The MRC grant will fund Moores’ research, which aims to better understand the mechanisms that support neuronal health, and how it breaks down.

She explained: “In the same way that our body has a skeleton that provides us with support and strength, neurons have a skeleton – called the cytoskeleton - which also gives them support and strength. Breakdown of the neuronal cytoskeleton is associated with developmental syndromes, neurodegenerative diseases and neuropsychiatric illness.

“My research team studies the ‘scaffolding’ inside neurons known as microtubules. We use a very powerful microscope called an electron microscope to take pictures of individual microtubules and then use computers to combine these pictures to calculate their three-dimensional shape. Using this information, we will be able to understand disease-causing defects to particular machinery components.

“In the future, this knowledge may allow us to target and repair the broken parts of the cytoskeleton machinery in diseased or damaged neurons. This could allow alleviation of symptoms associated with dementia, stroke and physical injury.”

Moores’ project will begin in December 2017 and is expected to last five years. 

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