Brain Sciences

Prof John Collinge

Prof John Collinge

Professor of Neurology

MRC Prion Unit at UCL

UCL Institute of Prion Diseases

Joined UCL
1st Apr 2001

Research summary

The Department of Neurodegenerative Disease’s research portfolio encompasses prion diseases (predominantly within the embedded MRC Prion Unit), Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, Huntington’s disease, motor neurone disease and frontotemporal dementia and studies of the pathways of cellular senescence. The research philosophy is to combine basic and clinical translational research; many of the key contributions towards understanding the basic biology of these diseases have come from clinical and neuropathological observations, and efficient translation of basic laboratory research to the clinic is essential to provide benefits for patients at the earliest opportunity.

The MRC Prion Unit was established in 1998 and is located at the UCL Institute of Neurology where it is closely integrated with the University Department of Neurodegenerative Disease. The Unit was formed to provide a national centre of excellence with all necessary facilities to pursue a major long-term research strategy in prion and related diseases. 

Prions, unlike other infectious agents or germs, appear to lack their own genes and consist of aggregated misshapen forms of one of the body’s own proteins, the prion protein or PrP. Despite lacking genes, prions can exist as distinct strains with quite different properties. These unique features have wide implications in biology and evolution, and prions and prion diseases are of intense international research interest. However, in addition to the importance of this basic science, the Unit’s mission is also to tackle key public health issues posed by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

It is becoming increasingly clear that other much commoner degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, also involve accumulation of rogue or abnormal forms of one or more of the body’s proteins resulting in damage to brain cells. Prion diseases, in addition to their intrinsic interest and importance, can be considered a paradigm for these other “protein misfolding” diseases. 

Our research programmes are highly multidisciplinary and focus both on areas of public health concern and a long-term approach to the understanding of prion disease. They include studies of molecular structure, genetics, biochemistry, immunology, cell and animal models, and clinical research - including treatment trials. Two major programmes to develop novel therapies are underway.


Royal College of Physicians
Doctorate, Member of the Royal College of Physicians |
Royal College of Physicians
Doctorate, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians | 1998
University of Bristol
Doctorate, Doctor of Medicine | 1992
University of Bristol
Doctorate, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery | 1984
University of Bristol
First Degree, Bachelor of Science (Honours) | 1981


John Collinge is Professor of Neurology and Head of the Department of Neurodegenerative Disease at the UCL Institute of Neurology, and Director of the MRC Prion Unit. He also directs the NHS National Prion Clinic at the adjacent National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Professor Collinge trained in medicine at the University of Bristol and in neurology at St Mary’s Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. He is committed to highly multidisciplinary research and the seamless integration of basic laboratory and clinical research. He established the MRC Prion Unit at Imperial College in 1998 where he held the positions of Wellcome Senior Clinical Fellow and then Wellcome Principal Clinical Fellow. His laboratory demonstrated in 1996 that the new human prion disease, variant CJD, was caused by the same prion strain as that causing BSE in cattle and has been responsible for a number of key advances in the field. Professor Collinge has served on numerous Government advisory committees on prion disease at a national, European Union and international level. He is committed to public communication of the Unit’s research and gives many media interviews. He is a Founder Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Society and was awarded a CBE for services to medical research.