Bill Harris is a developmental neurobiologist who has explored how embryonic cells adopt specialised identities, grow towards their targets and form connections in the brain. His work on the retina has expanded our understanding of brain development as well as suggesting potential applications in clinical ophthalmology.
Bill showed that whilst growing neurons do not need to be electrically active in their early stages, activity does play a role as they form connections. He also revealed that the growing tips of axons are guided by local cues. His classic studies in zebrafish showed that progenitor cells in the retina could give rise to a variety of cell types.
The network of factors regulating retinal development that Bill discovered could lead to stem cell treatments for degenerative eye diseases. Recognising that the zebrafish embryo could potentially be used to screen drug candidates for neurological conditions, Bill co-founded a spinout company to develop the platform.