Dr Conceição Bettencourt
21 January 2021
This week we meet Dr Conceição Bettencourt, Senior Research Fellow at UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, who chats to us about being awarded a fellowship from Alzheimer's Research UK in 2020 and her current work investigating changes in DNA methylation.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Neurodegenerative Disease and Queen Square Brain Bank, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology. My current research focuses on brain DNA methylation alterations, their downstream consequences on gene expression, and their role in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and other neurodegenerative diseases, including multiple system atrophy (MSA). My work entails wet lab experiments as well as bioinformatic data analysis.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
It is actually my eighth work anniversary at UCL this month. Before joining UCL in January 2013, I worked as a postdoc across laboratories in Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands, which was a very enriching experience. During that time, apart from conducting research on genetics of rare neurological diseases, I managed to learn Spanish, but not more than a few words in Dutch! By the way, Portuguese is my native language.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I feel very proud and honoured to have been awarded in 2020 a fellowship from Alzheimer's Research UK (ARUK) and a research grant from the Multiple System Atrophy Trust. These two awards give me the chance to develop ideas of my own in collaboration with others and mark the start of my own research group. I am very grateful for all the opportunities and support that I received during my scientific career, and I hope that I will successfully mentor others. I certainly feel very proud of seeing my former and current students thrive.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
I am investigating changes in DNA methylation that occur in frontotemporal dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, using human post-mortem brain tissue. Currently, I am analysing brain genome-wide DNA methylation data that I was able to generate since I started my ARUK fellowship in July 2020. In addition, I am integrating these with data produced by my collaborators. At the top of my to-do list for next week is the recording of a talk for an international conference with the major findings that I have obtained so far. The overarching goal of this fellowship is to achieve a better understanding of the molecular alterations that occur in FTD, and generate knowledge that will help to improve diagnosis, develop new treatments (as DNA methylation may be reversible), and develop biomarkers to monitor disease progression in life and response to treatments in drug trials.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Music is very important to me and it is rather hard to name a single album, but I can say that The Very Best of Diana Krall is definitely a must on my list.
From the films that I have been 'allowed to watch' recently, my preference goes to… Frozen!
Among the books I enjoyed reading is Blindness (in Portuguese, Ensaio sobre a cegueira) by José Saramago.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
“I may look like I’m not doing anything, but at a cellular level I am quite busy.”
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
My dream dinner guests would be my family and some close friends, who I have not seen in person for over a year.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Have more fun and do not be afraid of trying new things (good things only!).
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I played the piano and sang in choirs when I was younger.
What is your favourite place?
A special place with an ocean view.