Brain Sciences


Sensory systems

Our sensory systems research brings together our expertise in audition, vision and cognition to transform understanding of the mechanisms underlying function and dysfunction in sensory systems.

Our research also aims to develop and validate new therapeutic approaches in areas ranging from stem cells to neuroprosthetics.


Research in the field of ophthalmology comprises three inter-related themes which span fundamental biological science and vision research, through to translational research in vision and ophthalmology and clinical medicine (with our partner Moorfields Eye Hospital).

  • Development, Ageing and Disease: Vision loss caused by defective development, childhood or early onset disease, and the effects of ageing represent a major global health burden. 
  • Rescue, Repair and Regeneration: Protecting and improving vision and quality of life for people with established sight loss.
  • Visual Function and Integrative Epidemiology: Research within this theme investigates new ways to assess vision (including psychophysics and imaging) and how the brain processes visual signals, and combines imaging and data science (informatics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning) with epidemiology and genetics, developing new approaches to healthcare delivery, inform policy and improve quality of life of individuals with sight loss.

AOSLO imaging facilities provide an optimal window of opportunity for therapeutic intervention for different conditions, and the efficacy of new therapies, such as gene therapy, informing clinical trials at MEH. We have also established the Brian Mercer patient iPSC bank to facilitate our translational research.

The IoO is the International Strategic Partner for the newly formed International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER; Poland). Our goals and ambitions are strategically aligned, particularly in imaging at different levels of resolution, from single molecules to the entire architecture and function of the eye. Internships for post-doctoral scientists and PhD students, and joint research symposia will foster collaboration and create opportunities to accelerate research.

We have built a bespoke AOSLO imaging platform to investigate the relationship between retinal structure and function, at a cellular level. This technology is unique in the UK, and enables researchers to investigate genotype-phenotype correlations, and perform longitudinal assessment to understand the natural history of disease.

Hearing and deafness

Multidisciplinary research on hearing and deafness at the Ear Institute moves from genomics, through cell and molecular biology, neurophysiology and computation and on to human sensory perception, audiology and ENT based clinical trials. In partnership with the new Royal National Ear Nose and Throat Hospital (RNENTH) this constitutes the UK’s largest single grouping of audio-vestibular, discovery and clinical scientists.

Over the next five years UCL will invest in this area by expanding the Ear Institute site and refurbishing existing older parts of the estate surrounding the 2005 building, allowing facilities for the further development of translational and clinical research activity.

Speech, hearing and phonetic sciences

Research in speech, hearing and phonetic sciences includes the basic science behind human vocal communication together with investigations into the production and perception of spoken language. Staff study mechanisms of vocal learning and the paralinguistic and extralinguistic influences on the form of speech, and how the communication of linguistically-coded information through speaking and listening varies across speakers, ages, impairments and listening conditions.

Key ambitions for the next period are to develop expertise in interactive virtual audio-visual environments, and to further collaborations with business, education and clinical partners for exploitation of our expertise in speech and voice in real-world applications.

UCLH Biomedical Research Centre and Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre

Two partnerships between NIHR and UCL, renewed in 2016, have provided extensive investment in collaborative experimental medicine research and strongly leverage support from other funders.

The UCLH Biomedical Research Centre was awarded funding of £114M and includes themes in deafness and hearing, dementia and mental health, and neurological diseases, all led by FBS researchers. The BRC supports first in human studies including early phase translational studies focusing on new therapies, improvements in diagnosis, treatment selection, evaluation of response to therapies, and repurposing (discovering new uses for existing therapies).

The partnership and combined impact of our joint research with Moorfields Eye Hospital has been sustained though their joint designation as the Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre with funding of £19M. This facilitates the infrastructure and support required to build on fundamental discovery research in vision science and enables rapid delivery of new diagnostic methods and therapies into the clinical setting, closely aligned with the Eyes and Vision theme within UCLP to maximise opportunity in key common areas in personalised medicine, lifelong health, global reach, partnership working, industry engagement, patient and public involvement, and research capacity development. There is strong engagement with industry (recent major contracts with GSK, Roche, Pfizer and Santen); successful spin-outs and spin-in initiatives and powerful collaborations with centres in the US and across Europe.

Project Oriel

The partnership between the Institute of Ophthalmology (IoO) and Moorfields Eye Hospital represents the largest co-located site for eye research, education and care in the world.

The ‘Oriel’ project will integrate Moorfields Eye Hospital’s main City Road hospital site and the IoO in a new purpose-built environment on the St Pancras Hospital site in Camden. The ~£500 million joint programme will see the creation of a new clinical, research and teaching site for Eyes and Vision, bringing together clinical care, research and education. Public planning consultation on the early designs is now open. If the proposal is approved, Oriel could purchase the preferred site at St Pancras hospital by 2020/2021, with construction potentially starting in 2022. The new facility could be open to patients by 2025/26.

We plan to develop our world-leading partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital by building on existing strengths. This will involve maintaining our core science strengths, including Genomic Medicine, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Neuroscience and Vision and Psychophysics, which are essential for the development of new approaches that have the potential to be of benefit to patients.

We have agreed a portfolio of research programmes according to patient need, particularly for the most common eye conditions of glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. We will continue to review the portfolio for the unanswered questions associated with the eye conditions identified in the report generated by the James Lind Alliance’s Priority-Setting Partnership for Sight Loss and Vision.

We will benefit from provision of enhanced fundamental research facilities such as tissue culture labs, a Biological Services Unit, flow cytometry, cellular and sub-cellular imaging technology. This will further improve the quality of laboratory-based research. Oriel will also increase the visibility of research opportunities to patients and staff and the number of patients participating in research trials.


We will build on our AI/machine learning and informatics expertise and resources, in collaboration with UCLPartners, Health Care Engineering, and industrial partners, to build capacity to retain the position of IoO/Moorfields Eye Hospital at the forefront of global big data/AI research in health and disease.

Genomic medicine

Building on UKBB resource and Genomics England data to realise the potential of these large cohorts to advance our understanding of quantitate traits and improve our knowledge of the genomic and biological mechanisms underlying rare, and common disease such as glaucoma, myopia, age-related macular degeneration and keratoconus. Translating this knowledge, from fundamental research through to developing model paradigms (e.g. stem cell research) and testing potential therapies, into clinical medicine (e.g. diagnostics and clinical trials).

Imaging and engineering

The is an opportunity to establish a research portfolio leading to imaging every single cell in the human eye and being able to measure cell function through measurements of metabolism, movement of subcellular structures, cell movement (through fluorescent labels), neurovascular coupling and CNS function, and making possible functional cellular-level microscopy in the living human eye.

In collaboration with UCL Health Care Engineering, fundamental research in ocular imaging should improve our ability to detect disease early, monitor progression and response to treatments (imaging biomarkers), in addition to monitoring healthy aging, with the prospect of application to co-morbidities such as diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and dementia, and cardiovascular disease.