UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Dr Soyon Hong (UK DRI at UCL) awarded prestigious prize at UK’s largest dementia research conference

15 March 2023

We are delighted to announce that Dr Soyon Hong (UK DRI at UCL, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) has been awarded the Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) David Hague award for Early Career Investigator of the Year.

Dr Hong's lab group

The David Hague Early Career Investigator of the Year is awarded to the most outstanding early career researcher in the field of biomedical dementia research. Previous winners include researchers Prof Katie Lunnon (University of Exeter), Prof Selina Wray (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) and Dr Shane Liddelow (NYU Langone in New York City), all of whom have gone on to become leaders in their field.

This year’s award recognises Dr Hong’s incredible contributions towards the understanding of how our brain’s nervous and immune systems work together to control the information sent across synapses, the connections between nerve cells. Her work has uncovered the mechanisms behind what happens to these nerve connections during the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Dr Hong is awarded the prize not only for her contribution to the dementia research field, but also for her dedication to nurturing and mentoring the future generation of scientists. Dr Hong will present her research at ARUK’s annual conference, with an audience of over 500 dementia researchers.

Anna-Leigh Brown, a PhD student from the Department of Neuromuscular Diseases, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, was awarded the Jean Corsan Prize, for the best published scientific paper by a PhD student in the field.

Javier Bautista, a PhD student at Dr Pitceathly's lab from the Department of Neuromuscular Diseases, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, won the Best Poster prize at the conference. 

In the study, Anna-Leigh Brown collaborated with a group of international researchers to uncover how a variation in a gene called UNC13A can increase the risk of both amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). They found that this gene variant, which is commonly found in people with ALS or FTD, interferes with the ability of a regulatory protein, known as TDP-43, to control the correct production of UNC13A, a gene crucial for the communication between neurons.

Dr Soyon Hong, Group Leader at the UK DRI at UCL, said: “My group is looking at the role microglia, a type of immune cell found in our brain. Microglia usually have a protective function, but sometimes they malfunction and cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. My team are finding ways to target malfunctioning microglia, which may help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s.
“Receiving this award is an honour and is so encouraging for me and my team who are just starting their careers in dementia research. We hope the discoveries we make in the lab will make a fundamental difference in our understanding of how the brain works. Ultimately, we want to find new drug targets that could be new life-changing treatments for people with dementia.”
Anna-Leigh Brown said “We’ve known for over a decade that people who have variations in the UNC13A gene are at a greater risk of developing ALS and FTD. But scientists have still not been able to find out how this happens. We’ve now discovered an important link between this gene and faults in the function of TDP-43 protein." 
“Our next step will be to fix the incorrect UNC13A produced when TDP-43 protein stops working. We hope that in the future, our work will lead to new treatments to slow down disease progression and give valuable time for people living with ALS and FTD.”
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We are delighted we can continue to support outstanding early career researchers and provide them the recognition they deserve. We look forward to welcoming Dr Hong and Ms Brown to the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2023 to present their findings.
“We must continue to back early career researchers if we are to re-ignite dementia research and deliver life-changing treatments for people living with dementia. Investing in early career researchers now is vital to make sure we have the best dementia research leaders of tomorrow and that we can continue to make research breakthroughs possible.”
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