Stress, sleep and cellular vulnerability: round two of cross-centre postdoc awards announced

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We are delighted to announce the latest recipients of our cross-centre postdoctoral awards – a scheme to stimulate exciting new academic relationships and projects that unlock our understanding of dementia. The projects awarded this round will investigate how our brain cells protect themselves, why certain cell populations are more vulnerable to disease than others and whether enhancing sleep could improve symptoms at the earliest stages of dementia. 

One of our strengths as an institute comes from the ability to bring together diverse expertise and create promising new avenues in dementia research. The cross-centre programme is one initiative to stimulate these collaborations, providing funding to pairs of UK DRI Group Leaders (or associated members) for one postdoctoral researcher over three years, who will share their time between two labs at different UK DRI centres. Those involved in the projects will benefit greatly from the shared expertise of the Group Leaders and access to state-of-art technology and resources.

The panel assessing proposals from this round were impressed by the scientific merit and meaningful collaboration of the following successful projects.

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RBM3 is a protein that binds to genetic material in brain cells to control how they respond to stress. In particular RBM3 has been suggested to protect the connections between cells and synapses. In this study, UK DRI at King’s and Cambridge join forces to understand how RBM3 works and what series of events it sparks to keep brain cells and their connections healthy. This project will use state-of-the-art techniques to uncover targets of RBM3 in cells grown in a dish and will then take this a step further, seeing how RBM3 works in a mouse model. This study will lay the groundwork for identifying new potential therapeutic targets which could be used to keep brain cells healthy and connected early in Alzheimer’s disease and similar diseases that cause dementia.

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This study will combine the impressive scope of the recently launched Multi-‘Omics Atlas Project (MAP) at Imperial with the genetic expertise of UCL. Exploiting a range of data from multiple techniques, the MAP aims to analyse and profile the human brain in unprecedented detail, during different stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The aim of this project is to decipher why subtly different populations of brain cells are more vulnerable than others to the disease. This information will be of significant benefit to the dementia research community and aims to identify potential therapeutic targets using the information uncovered.

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Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the sleep stage during which we often dream, is particularly disrupted in the earliest stages of dementia. The two research groups are interested in whether enhancement of REM sleep could therefore improve certain symptoms associated with the disease. In this study they will test this theory in an aged mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, and in older people, both with and without dementia. The team have already discovered that stimulating certain brain cells in mice will trigger REM sleep which results in reduced anxiety, aggression and improved memory. In people they plan to develop an auditory stimulation to enhance REM sleep before evaluating their mood and memory. Understanding the role of REM sleep in the regulation of mood and memory in dementia will aid the development of new non-invasive or pharmacological approaches. The hope is that this will improve mental health and emotional stability of people, particularly those in the early stages of the condition.

The postdoctoral vacancies for these projects will be open in the coming months so keep an eye on, and share with your networks.

Article published: 28 July 2020
Banner image: jamesteohart/
Synapse image: Andrii Vodolahsyi/
Brain image: Yurchanka Siarhei/
Sleep image: Stock-Asso/