Alzheimer’s Research UK champions early career scientists. Without supporting the research leaders of tomorrow, we will not be successful in making the vital breakthroughs needed for dementia.
The Jean Corsan prize is a great example of how the charity backs young scientists. Supported by the Jean Corsan Foundation in memory of a much beloved wife and mother, the Jean Corsan prize is awarded to the best scientific paper by a scientist studying for their PhD in the field of neurodegeneration – the start of their journey to becoming a fully-fledged researcher.
Amy Lloyd wins the 2020 award, which would ordinarily have been presented at our annual Research Conference that was due to take place in Wales this month. Though the conference was sadly cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, Amy has joined other scientists to share her work as part of our virtual Twitter conference instead, ensuring scientific understanding about dementia continues to grow worldwide.
We spent some time catching up with Amy – now Dr Lloyd, at the University of Dundee.
What was your reaction to winning the Jean Corsan Prize?
I was so shocked! It is a great honour to receive such a prestigious award, I called my mum as soon as I found out!
The last year has been the highlight of my career, from seeing my paper published to now being awarded the Jean Corsan prize for my work.
My PhD mentor, Dr Veronique Miron was fantastic and I wouldn’t have had this success without her support, guidance and infectious enthusiasm for science.
So, what did your research look at?
My research focuses on understanding how microglia, the brain’s immune cells, behave in during diseases in the brain.
Microglia are often seen as a double-edged sword; they can promote tissue repair, but they can also create environments that promote damage to nerve cells.
My work helped to understand the role microglia play during the loss of a fatty insulating tissue around nerves cells. This is an important hallmark of a neurodegenerative disease known as multiple sclerosis (MS).
But microglia also play a role in the repair of this tissue, which is the ultimate goal for new drugs designed to treat MS.
Currently there are no drugs that help regenerate the nerve cells in Alzheimer’s disease or MS.
We now appreciate the role of the immune cells in the initiation and progression of dementia-related diseases.
Understanding exactly how they behave and why they become destructive is a very promising area of research.
It is also imperative that we can develop drugs that promote repair and reverse damage. My work shows that targeting these microglia could be a promising therapeutic target to do this.
That sounds exciting! What hope does your work bring to people?
It was once thought that all damage to the brain was irreversible, but now we are gaining greater understanding into how the brain can repair itself and insights into how to promote this with therapies. Giant strides in understanding are being made every year. I am very hopeful about how far we will get the next five years.
Conducting research can be quite intense, how do you unwind?
Out of the lab, you can usually find me in the kitchen baking. Baking is therapeutic for me, so I’m often bringing in my latest bakes for my lab mates to enjoy the next day.
Editor’s note: we’re sure Amy’s colleagues will be missing these treats while home-working is in force!
When I’m not baking, I’m keeping fit either in the gym or by going for hikes around Scotland to negate all of the calories from the cakes!
Coffee! All my best ideas for experiments come from my morning cup of coffee! I am convinced that it has magical properties!
A link to a summary of Amy’s award-winning science paper is here.