JCSMR Special School Seminar: Stem cells to synapses: Regulation of self-renewal and differentiation in the nervous system

Applicant for Position of Director, Eccles Institute of Neuroscience.
Professor Andrea Brand,
FRS FMedSci, Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Biology Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute and Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge.

Discovering how stem cells are maintained in a multipotent state and how their progeny differentiate into distinct cellular fates is a key step in the therapeutic use of stem cells to repair tissues after damage or disease. We are investigating the genetic networks that regulate neural stem cells in Drosophila. Stem cells can divide symmetrically to expand the stem cell pool, or asymmetrically to self-renew and generate a daughter cell destined for differentiation. Symmetrically dividing stem cells exist in the optic lobe of the brain, where they convert to asymmetrically dividing neuroblasts. By comparing the transcriptional profiles of symmetrically and asymmetrically dividing stem cells, we are identifying key regulators of the switch from symmetric to asymmetric division. The balance between symmetric and asymmetric division is critical for the generation and repair of tissues, as unregulated stem cell division can result in tumourous overgrowth. For example the loss of cell fate determinants, such as the homeodomain transcription factor Prospero, causes differentiating daughter cells to revert to a stem cell-like fate: they express markers of self-renewal, continue to proliferate, fail to differentiate and generate tumours. By identifying Prospero’s targets throughout the genome we showed that Prospero represses genes for self-renewal and activates differentiation genes. We are now characterising co-factors that act with Prospero to promote differentiation and suppress tumour formation. We are also investigating the factors that regulate stem cell quiescence and reactivation. We discovered that insulin signalling from a surrounding glial niche is necessary for post-embryonic neuroblasts to exit quiescence and reinitiate cell proliferation.

Professor Andrea H Brand is the Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Cambridge. Professor Brand's lab studies the genetic networks that regulate the transition from a multipotent neural stem cell to a specialised neuronal or glial cell type. With sufficient knowledge of these networks, it should be possible to manipulate stem cells to proliferate, to remain quiescent, or to differentiate into specialised, predefined, cell types.

Professor Brand received her BA (Honours) in Biochemistry from Oxford University and her PhD from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge, working with Professor Kim Nasmyth. After postdoctoral fellowships with Professor Mark Ptashne at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Harvard University, and with Professor Norbert Perrimon at the Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Professor Brand returned to the UK to become a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow in Basic Biomedical Research at the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge. She became Director of Research in Developmental Neurobiology in 2003 and Senior Group Leader in 2005. Professor Brand was elected to the Herchel Smith Chair in 2007 and is a member of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience as well as the Gurdon Institute. In 2009 she was elected a Professorial Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.

Professor Brand was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2010, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2003 and a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization in 2000. She was previously a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow, a Leukemia Society Special Fellow and a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow. Professor Brand was awarded the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award in 2006, the William Bate Hardy Prize, jointly with Professor Robin Irvine, in 2004, the Hooke Medal of the British Society of Cell Biology in 2002 and a Special Award of Excellence at the Wellcome Biomedical Imaging Awards, 2001.

Date & time

2–3pm 28 February 2012


The Finkel Lecture Theatre, The John Curtin School of Medical Research, Building 131, Garran Road, ANU


 Laura Vitler
 +61 2 6125 2589

Updated:  26 September 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director, JCSMR/Page Contact:  Web Manager