Selina Wray is an Alzheimer’s Research UK Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Institute of Neurology. She led one of the first teams to grow human brain cells in the lab, opening up new and valuable insights into dementia. Her work focuses on detecting changes in the brain as early as possible to inform the development of early interventions for dementia.
Please tell us about some of the work you have done to support, improve and contribute to the lives of, people with dementias?
My work is very lab-based, and aims to understand the very first things that go wrong in the brain cells of people with dementia, using human neurons (brain cells) that we grow in the laboratory. Our idea is if we understand the first things to go wrong, we can intervene at that earliest level when we develop novel therapeutics. In addition to research I also do a lot of public engagement work – explaining our research and why it matters to patients, carers, policymakers and the media.
What was your motivation for getting involved in the field of dementia?
I initially became interested because of the science – at university we had really interesting lectures on protein aggregation, a common theme in dementia. But once I started working in this area, I realised just how important it was and I was motivated to work on something that has had a huge impact on so many people, and where hopefully we will make a real difference.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement or highlight?
When we successfully managed to grow human brain cells in the lab for the first time, that was very exciting! But I’ve also really enjoyed some of the public engagement we have done – we did an event for 5000 people at the Science Museum Lates series, and it was really rewarding to see how engaged everyone is with dementia research.
We were early adopters of the technology that allows us to grow human brain cells in the lab, and this means it has taken us time to get up and running with this technique. Now it is used routinely in my lab, the group is expanding and we are using this technique to look at multiple forms of dementia including Alzheimer's Disease and Frontotemporal dementia. Exciting times ahead!
If you could change one thing now to improve the lives of people living with dementia, what would it be?
I think the idea that dementia is an inevitable part of aging still persists to some extent, and I would like to change that. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain, and that is a really important distinction because it means those diseases are not inevitable: we can research what causes them and develop ways to reduce the risk of developing them or slow down their progression.