UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Creating brain cells from skin to study Alzheimer's

8 September 2014

An early-career researcher at UCL Institute of Neurology has just been awarded £900,000 for a stem cell study to develop new treatments for dementia.

Dr Selina Wray, Department of Molecular Neuroscience, beat off stiff competition from three other research teams for three years of funding to develop an innovative new way to screen potential new treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s. The announcement comes in a week she is also named Red Magazine’s Pioneer of the Year for her contribution to research.

Last year, scientists were challenged to use the latest stem cell techniques to pioneer a cell model of dementia in the lab to be used for drug screening. The challenge, called CRACK IT UnTangle, is led by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) and co-sponsored by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Lilly and Janssen.

The first phase of the challenge saw four initial teams awarded £100k for six months to see who could develop the most promising way to recreate the build-up of the hallmark dementia protein tau in cells in the laboratory. Three teams re-applied for the full £900k award, with Dr Wray and colleagues at the University of Strathclyde awarded the top prize.

During the first six months of the project the team showed they could effectively transform patient skin cells into nerve cells in the lab which grew connections and communicated with each other. The nerve cells also developed a build-up of tau protein, similar to that seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia.

The team will now work with Edinburgh-based companies RBiomedical and Roslin Cells to scale up their experiment to improve drug discovery for these devastating diseases.

Dr Selina Wray, said: “While dementia research has been in the shadows for many years, we’re starting to see growing efforts to coordinate research towards a cure. One important step in developing effective treatments for dementia is to recreate aspects of diseases that cause it in the laboratory. .....Now that we’ve shown our cells recreate the build-up of tau seen in the brain, we can start to scale this up so it can be used to screen for drugs that could stop tau in its tracks.”

Further information:


  • Selina Wray with some of her stem cells (Credit: UCL)

Source: Alzheimer's Research UK