When looking at a brain from an individual with dementia, a characteristic build-up of abnormal proteins is often seen alongside the substantial loss of neurons. These aggregations are of great interest to researchers, but could their location also offer clues as to the underlying causes of disease and, critically, opportunities for treatment? We caught up with Dr Sarah Mizielinska (UK DRI Group Leader at King’s) to find out more about her cutting-edge research into the mislocalisation of proteins, the importance of a multidisciplinary approach and her experiences starting a new family and lab group in academia.
Dr Mizielinska began her academic journey as a pharmacology undergraduate at the University of Bristol. Fascinated by the study of the brain but unsure of the next steps, she took a position as a lab technician, an experience she says encouraged her to embark upon a PhD, as well as preparing her for the challenge it presented.
“I really loved science and being in a lab doing research, but you don't get that much time for it during your undergraduate degree. So to go into a lab full time as a technician was a brilliant experience. I was very involved in the research and making decisions. I would highly recommend it and when I went into my PhD, I was more much more confident, like “I know exactly what the research world is. I know the challenges involved in it and I'm technically skilled in the lab.” It really was a major advantage and I think that it made the jump very easy.”
For her PhD, Dr Mizielinska explored how neurons respond and recover to cellular stress during stroke at the University of Dundee. It was there that her interest in neurological disease research was sparked, leading her to the lab of Prof Adrian Isaacs, now UK DRI Group Leader at UCL.
“I spent six years with Adrian and it was a really amazing experience that shaped my career. He has clear focus on the importance of disease relevance, which he shares and inspires in the people he mentors. I was taking studies all the way through from molecular biology, cellular work, animal studies, to human pathology. I was also fortunate to start working on the C9orf72 mutation in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) from when it was first discovered, which was exciting and what I still research today.”
Amongst other findings Dr Mizielinska’s efforts in the Isaacs’ lab led to a significant Science publication in 2014, dissecting the molecular mechanism behind protein and RNA toxicity underlying ALS/FTD, caused by the most common C9orf72 mutation. This milestone provided Dr Mizielinska with the impetus to seek an independent research position, taking up a lectureship at King’s College London in the Department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience led by Prof Chris Shaw at the time, and was one of the foundational Group Leaders when the UK DRI Centre was established by Prof Shaw at King’s.