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Prof Andrew Copp
UCL Institute of Child Health
30 Guilford Street
Prof Andrew Copp profile picture
  • Glaxo-Wellcome Professor of Developmental Neurobiology
  • Developmental Biology & Cancer Dept
  • UCL GOS Institute of Child Health
  • Faculty of Pop Health Sciences

I began my career as a scientist with a BA in Zoology and a DPhil in experimental embryology from Oxford University.  I saw how my scientific training could be clinically relevant to healthcare, but I needed to gain a deeper understanding of health problems. Hence, after my DPhil, I applied for medical training at Guy’s Hospital, London. At this time, my plans could be summarised as:


“The challenge of birth defects had been largely approached from a clinical perspective. We know little of the processes in the embryo and fetus that cause disabling childhood disorders. My aim was to use the embryology knowledge I had gained, together with clinical training, to make inroads into the questions of pathogenesis and prevention of congenital malformations”.


Throughout my clinical course, I moonlighted in research within the Paediatric Research Unit at Guy’s Hospital. I began working on a mouse model of spina bifida, which I am still studying today!  I found the period of medical training both varied and stimulating, as I moved seamlessly between learning how to manage patients on the ward and studying mouse embryos that failed to close their neural tube in the lab.


After graduating in medicine, I completed my house officer jobs at Guy’s and Newcross Hospitals, and then returned to full-time academic research. I went to the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford University, USA where I gained valuable postdoctoral experience. Then, I returned to UK and ran a small team at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s Developmental Biology Unit,  University of Oxford. I moved to the Institute of Child Health in 1992, initially as Senior Lecturer and from 1996 as Professor of Developmental Neurobiology. I became Institute Director in 2003 and stepped down from this role in September 2012.


I head the Newlife Birth Defects Research Centre, which opened in 2012. This Centre comprises a critical research mass of scientists and clinicians studying the causes and developmental mechanisms underlying congenital disorders in children. As part of this effort, my own team is working to understand the genetic basis of spina bifida, to unravel the events in the embryo that underlie this disorder, and to pursue new therapies that may enter clinical practice in the coming years.


I am co-Director of the Human Developmental Biology Resource (HDBR), a biobank that collects and supplies human embryonic and fetal material for research in developmental disorders (www.hdbr.org). Funded by MRC and Wellcome for the last 20 years, the HDBR supplies material to over 100 research projects at any time, and is currently the world’s leading human fetal tissue biobank. 


Research Summary

My research is concerned with the embryonic mechanisms underlying central nervous system development and congenital disorders. The laboratory is known internationally for its expertise in animal models of birth defects, particularly neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida). It is the first lab to take a potential new therapy for a birth defect, worked out in mouse models (i.e. inositol for prevention of folic acid-resistant neural tube defects), and to apply it to human pregnancy through a pilot clinical trial, the PONTI study (Br J Nutr, 2016, 115, 974-83).  A positive outcome of a full-scale trial would be the first innovation in primary prevention of a significant human birth defect since the research on folic acid in the late 1980s. My research team is supported by funding from the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, SPARKS (Sport Aiding Medical Research in Kids), Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children and the Bo Hjelt Spina Bifida Foundation.


Teaching Summary

Research student supervision at PhD level, together with supervision of laboratory and library projects for MSc and BSc students at UCL and beyond.

Lectures on normal and abnormal development of the CNS, introduction to birth defects, introduction to developmental biology, and writing Scientific English, on:

  • MSc in Organogenesis & Fetal Development
  • MBBS, 2nd year course in Neuroscience & BehaviourBSc in Biomedical Sciences (ANAT0001)
  • BSc & MSc, Neurobiology of Brain Injury & Disease (NEUR0010/0012)
  • Birth Defects: Basic Research to Clinical Application (ANAT0024)
  • Critical Thinking & Science Communication (CHLD0007)

Academic Background
1983   Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery University of London
1979   Bachelor of Medicine University of Oxford
1978   Doctor of Philosophy University of Oxford
1975   Bachelor of Arts (Honours) University of Oxford
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