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Dr Barney Bryson
QSH 505
UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
Department of Neuromuscular Diseases
Dr Barney Bryson profile picture
  • MND Association Senior Non-Clinical Research Fellow / UCL Excellence Fellow
  • Department of Neuromuscular Diseases
  • UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
  • Faculty of Brain Sciences
After obtaining a BSc (Hons) in Medical Science, from the University of Leeds in 2002, I was fortunate enough to work for Prof Marie T. Filbin at Hunter College, City University of New York, as a Research Assistant for several years, where I worked until 2005. It was here that I gained my initial research training and developed my major research interest in the field of neuroregeneration, with the long term aim of developing novel therapies capable of overcoming debilitating conditions caused by traumatic injury and neurodegenerative conditions affecting the central nervous system. Following this highly formative period, I then undertook postgraduate research training at Columbia University where I obtained an MA (2006) and MPhil (2008) in Neurobiology and Behavior, before returning to the UK to complete my doctoral studies at King's College London, under the supervision of Prof Patrick Doherty. I obtained my PhD in Neuroscience (2011), working on a research project that was carried out in close collaboration with Prof Linda Greensmith (UCL Institute of Neurology), with whom I carried on my postdoctoral research and training, between 2011-2017, before taking up my current Senior Research Fellowship position within the Department of Neuromuscular Diseases.

Research Themes
Research Summary
Throughout my career, my research interests have long been focused on the development of a deeper understanding of the pathomechanisms that affect the neuromuscular system, resulting in paralysis, with a view to developing therapies that can overcome such paralyzing conditions. In particular, my research focuses on motor neurone disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; ALS). Recently, these efforts have culminated in a major contribution to the development of a novel therapeutic strategy to restore lost motor function using a combination of stem cell derived neural replacement and optogenetics, which has, so far, been successfully demonstrated in a murine nerve injury model of muscle paralysis. Briefly, peripheral engraftment of stem cell derived motor neurons into distal branches of injured or degenerating peripheral nerves, enables formation of new neuromuscular junctions (the specialized synaptic connections between motor neurons and muscle fibres) in targeted muscles. In addition, the genetic modification of these engrafted motor neurons with the light-sensitive channelrhodopsin-2 gene, enables their neural activity to be precisely controlled using pulses of light, which, in turn, confers the ability to finely control the contractile activity of the target muscle. This approach has major advantages over conventional electrical stimulation methods to control neural activity, since only the engrafted motor neurons respond to optical stimulation, thus avoiding painful activation of sensory axons and, importantly, optical stimulation activates motor neurons in the correct physiological order, according to Henneman’s size principle, thereby avoiding rapid muscle fatigue that is a major drawback of electrical stimulation. Moreover, the ability to replace motor neurons that have been lost due to traumatic injury or neurodegenerative conditions significantly broadens the therapeutic scope of this strategy, with potential implications for a wide variety of neurogenic conditions that cause paralysis, including ALS. Therefore, the major focus of my current research efforts is to continue the translational development of this exciting therapeutic strategy for future use in humans.

In order to realize this goal, my research group currently employs a variety of cutting-edge techniques to model the ability to restore lost muscle function in vivo, using mouse and rat models of neurogenic paralysis, as well as sophisticated in vitro models of the neuromuscular junction to develop strategies that promote connectivity between motor neurons and muscle fibres. This also enables us to study pathomechanisms that contribute to the breakdown of these specialized connections that occurs in ALS. We utilize LED and laser-based optical stimulation systems to control the neural activity of optogenetically modified motor neurons, derived from mouse embryonic stem cells and, most recently, in human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) derived motor neurons, along with multiphoton in vivo and in vitro imaging platforms to enable live imaging of the interaction between these motor neurons and target muscle fibres and to test their ability to functionally control muscle contraction in a therapeutically relevant manner.
Teaching Summary

I was appointed as Course Tutor on the Dual Masters in Brain and Mind Science in 2016 and have lectured on the MSc/MRes in Neuromuscular Diseases programme since 2016, as well as delivering masterclasses for the MSc Brain Sciences and MSc/MRes in Neuromuscular Diseases programmes since 2015. In addition to acting as an official marker for multiple MSc programmes at the UCL Institute of Neurology,  I am also a PhD student subsidiary supervisor and have supervised multiple MSc research students and PhD rotation students since 2011.

Academic Background
2011   Doctor of Philosophy King's College London
2008   Master of Science Columbia University
2006   Master of Arts Columbia University
2002   Bachelor of Science University of Leeds
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