Brain Injury and Repair

Professor Alastair Compston

Alastair CompstonNeuroscientists study the central nervous system - the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves and muscle - from the most fundamental cell and molecular elements to the systems and networks on which the many cognitive and physical skills that people use in their everyday lives depend. Despite many unanswered questions about how the brain works, clinical neuroscience - in which crude descriptions of disease are steadily being replaced by mechanistic accounts from which effective treatments and means of prevention are already emerging - is one of the most exciting areas of biomedical research.

Basic neuroscience integrates many disciplines, ranging from molecular biology through to experimental psychology, as well as the traditional disciplines of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. In the past fifty years, major advances in neuroscience research have helped us to understand how the brain works in health and disease. The recognition of a genetic basis for many common disorders; the identification of their environmental triggers; and the characterisation of molecular pathways involved in the pathogenesis of these complex phenotypes have altered concepts on many common disorders previously merely known by the name of the person who first described them. Generic principles such as aberrant protein folding, immune-based tissue injury, perturbations in ion-channel activity, and altered energy states within cells and their organelles are changing radically the understanding and classification of neurological disease; and promising new treatments.

Today we utilise modern research techniques such as brain scanning, and use tools ranging from genotyping, expression of molecules in nerve cells, measures of integrated networks and behavioural testing to unravel the complexities of the brain. From these studies, we are learning not only how the nervous system develops and functions normally, but also seeing ways in which some of the neurological and psychiatric disorders that affect millions of people might be treated or even prevented.

The budget for the Cambridge BRC Brain Injury& Repair theme is used to support clinician scientists at all levels but especially clinical trainees; to fund infrastructure costs that are not easily met through research grants or other sources but needed in order to enable productive research; and provide necessary transitional funding to ensure that the potential of existing research, which might otherwise be compromised, is fully realized.

The emphasis is on training and research that affects patients:

  • Insights into disease mechanisms
  • Improved phenotypic classifications
  • Biomarkers for monitoring disease risk, mechanisms, natural history and the effects of treatment
  • Improved outcome measures for clinical trials
  • Clinical trials involving pharmaceuticals and other interventions

Depending on need and priority, resources are targeted to research in dementia (mainly Alzheimer’s disease), neurodegeneration (especially Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases), multiple sclerosis, stroke and other forms of cerebrovascular disease, and traumatic brain injury.

Our theme supports both individual projects and generic facilities that enable interdisciplinary studies to proceed. Most but not all recipients of financial support are based within the clinical neurosciences directorate of the Trust and the University Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

Professor Alastair Compston alastair.compston@medschl.cam.ac.uk
June 2011