Research Fellows Directory
Professor Andrea Brand FRS FMedSci
University of Cambridge
One of the goals of research in neurobiology is to be able to repair or regenerate neurons after damage to the brain or spinal cord. Before we can learn how to repair the nervous system, we must first understand how the nervous system is put together. Of all the tissues and organs in the human body the nervous system is the most intricate and complex, consisting of more than 1012 neurons. These neurons make precise connections with each other to form functional networks that can transmit information at amazing speed over considerable distances.
Neurons are produced by multipotent precursors called stem cells. Neural stem cells divide in a self-renewing manner, generating daughter cells that give rise to different types of neurons. One aim of our work is to identify the genes that direct the different behaviours of cells in the developing nervous system. When we identify the genes that specify the characteristics of each of the different cell types in the nervous system, it may become possible to manipulate them in such a way as to induce stem cells to become neurons at will, or induce neurons to regenerate.
A second major interest is how the environment influences neural stem cell behaviour, in particular how nutrition regulates neural stem cell dormancy and proliferation. Uncovering the molecular mechanisms that control whether a stem cell chooses to remain dormant or to proliferate is crucial for understanding tissue regeneration under normal and pathological conditions and in response to ageing. It is critical to learn not only how stem cell proliferation is induced but also how stem cells can return to a quiescent state, as uncontrolled stem cell division can lead to cancers, such as glioma. A thorough appreciation of the signals, both extrinsic and intrinsic, that control stem cell behaviour is necessary to understand how homeostasis is achieved and maintained in the brain.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)