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Dr Barry McColl awarded Brain Research UK funding

Congratulations to Dr Barry McColl, Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, who has been awarded a 3 year project grant from Brain Research UK, to further develop work manipulating CNS macrophages to boost brain repair and functional recovery after ischaemic stroke.

Following rigorous assessment of a competitive grant round, Dr McColl's project was chosen for its strong potential to bring new understanding on how manipulation of immune cells could enhance repair of the nervous system following injury. The project also showed high translational potential, with relevance to other areas including traumatic brain injury and dementia.

The project will also benefit from the expertise of collaborators Dr Gerry Thompson (Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences) and Dr Lawrence Moon (King’s College London).

The work will study how targeting the CSF1R pathway can alter microglial and macrophage trafficking and function to promote favourable conditions for neuroplasticity in the brain and spinal cord and improve long-term skilled motor function.  

About stroke

Stroke happens when blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted. This starves the brain of oxygen and glucose, causing brain cells to die and the consequences can be devastating.

Lower mortality rates from stroke is now less than half what it was 30 years ago, which means more people are surviving stroke than ever before. It is estimated that there are 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK today.

But over half of stroke survivors are left with a life-limiting disability. Stroke-related disabilities vary depending on the extent of the damage and the exact area of the brain affected, but include limb weakness, impaired mobility, and problems with speech, balance and co-ordination.

Using immune cells to aid repair of the brain after stroke

Existing treatments for ischaemic stroke work by unblocking the damaged artery; this needs to be done very quickly after stroke happens in order to limit the damage. There is no treatment currently approved to treat stroke patients beyond this initial emergency treatment – to help the damaged brain heal.

We know from previous research that the area of brain tissue around the stroke damage, and connected regions, can adapt and reorganise to boost recovery or make-up for lost function. This remarkable ability of the brain to ‘rewire’ itself is known as ‘plasticity’. It helps to explain how, with the help of rehabilitation, people can recover functions that were initially lost.

Finding a treatment that can enhance plasticity in stroke patients would facilitate a faster, more complete recovery.

Dr McColl and colleagues are aiming to build on the relatively new understanding of the importance of the immune response in brain recovery and repair. Previous research has shown that other cell types, including some types of immune cells called macrophages, can help the nerve cells by creating the right conditions for repair to take place.  

The team proposes that further boosting the helpful functions of macrophages, including specialised macrophages called microglia that live in the brain, could enhance plasticity and improve recovery.

Impact

This project is a crucial step in the development of a potential new treatment to boost brain repair in stroke survivors and enhance recovery of function.

The work will give further insight as to how immune cells can be manipulated to influence neuroplasticity and functional recovery after injury, with applicability to other types of brain injury, as well as neurodegenerative diseases.

Further information

Brain Research UK

Dr Barry McColls lab profile