Meet the expert: Professor Bart De Strooper
What attracted you to the area of Alzheimer's research initially?
When I began my research career, little was known about the biological processes that underlay Alzheimer’s disease. This was a situation that seemed almost incredible to me: Alzheimer’s disease was already a major health problem at that time, and I was fascinated by the idea that one could use molecular biology to understand it.
This relatively unexplored territory was very attractive to me as a young and ambitious scientist. As I began to research the area, I became more and more fascinated.
Can you tell us about your current research?
Throughout my career I have been strongly motivated to gain an understanding of the molecular processes of Alzheimer’s disease, and the core of my work demonstrates that the gene presenilin, which is the primary cause of genetic Alzheimer’s disease, is actually the protease that cleaves the amyloid precursor protein and leads to the production of amyloid plaques. I believed this held the clue to new therapies and was very excited. Since then, we learnt that Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disorder, there is considerable variation in how different people’s brains react to amyloid plaques.
My focus is to understand how brain cells react to amyloid plaque pathology and how the initial trigger for amyloid plaques induces micro- and astroglia responses, and how this all relates to Tau pathology in neurons and neurodegeneration. I am very interested in how genetic diversity affects those cellular responses and why some people are protected while other people are very sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease pathology.
What aspect of your work most excites you and why?
The molecular biology of Alzheimer’s disease is like a complex jigsaw puzzle. Even though I have worked in this field for decades, I still get so excited and enthusiastic every time we are able to fit a new piece. Understanding how something works is fascinating. I also love to interact with young investigators who share my enthusiasm and dedication in the quest to solve this riddle and to make a difference to patients.
What would you say to someone who is considering whether to study neuroscience at UCL?
UCL is the best place in the world to study neuroscience.
What’s the best advice you would give your younger self?
The best advice I could give would be to study neuroscience at UCL and to follow your own path (I had wanted to study physics in addition to neuroscience). I would advise my younger self to do this and not to be swayed by others’ suggestions, to believe in your own capacities and path (which has taken me some time).