Brain Sciences


Three UK DRI researchers awarded prestigious Chan Zuckerberg Initiative award for collaboration

20 August 2020

Dr Soyon Hong, Dr Tim Bartels and Prof Adrian Isaacs, all from UK DRI at UCL, have each been awarded a Collaborative Pairs Pilot Projects award by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of a world-wide call.


New this year, the scheme sees pairs of researchers from different areas of science awarded $150,000 per pair to explore innovative, interdisciplinary approaches for addressing key challenges in the biology of neurodegenerative diseases. Dr Hong and Dr Bartels will work together on exploring the role of the gut-brain axis in Parkinson’s disease, while Prof Isaacs will lead a project with Dr Jeremy Carlton from the Francis Crick institute and King’s College London, to study membrane damage and repair in neurons. Successful Collaborative Pairs pilots are eligible to apply for additional four-year project development grants, and benefit from the support and resources of the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network.

Founded by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) aims to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future by using technology to help solve challenges such as preventing and eradicating disease, improving education and reforming the criminal justice system.

Dr Soyon Hong said: “To truly understand the brain – the most complex organ in our body – and what happens to it in neurodegenerative disease, scientists from disparate fields need to come together and apply their different expertise to answer a common question. Diverse viewpoints and cutting-edge tools across fields can enable powerful, effective and productive partnership that will change the landscape of neurodegeneration research. 

This generous award is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with lab of Dr Tim Bartels. Together, we will study neuroimmune signalling mechanisms critical for proper neuronal health, and analyse how these go awry in Parkinson’s disease. What we learn has the potential to transform what we know about how Parkinson's develops.”

Dr Tim Bartels commented: “This award will enable us to embark on work that will be vital to uncovering the role of the gut-brain axis in neurodegeneration, and the influence of peripheral immune cells in Parkinson’s disease. It is a unique opportunity to combine my lab’s strong background in how pathogenic proteins spread through tissue with Dr Soyon Hong’s neuroinflammation expertise. We hope our collaboration could lead to a completely new class of biomarkers, as well as new therapeutic targets for treating Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

Prof Adrian Isaacs commented: “I am delighted to receive this award, which will allow us to develop state-of-the-art tools for investigating membrane damage and repair in human neurons. Being specifically for new, cross-disciplinary collaborations, it forced us to think creatively and I’m really excited about what we’ll achieve as a result.”

Prof Bart de Strooper, Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, said: “Collaboration is at the heart of everything we do at the UK DRI. What’s great about these awards is that they champion and encourage true interdisciplinarity. Those of us working in the field of neurodegeneration know that this is the only way to really make progress towards breakthroughs. I’m thrilled that our researchers have been singled out for their new and different ways of approaching a problem, and am excited to see what they achieve as a result.”