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Dr Laura Benjamin
Dr Laura Benjamin profile picture
  • Wellcome Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship
  • Lab for Molecular Cell Bio MRC-UCL
  • Faculty of Life Sciences

Dr Laura Benjamin is a Principal Clinical Research Fellow at The MRC Laboratory of Molecular and Cell Biology, UCL and an Honorary Consultant Stroke Neurologist at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London. She obtained her medical degree at University College London, and a Wellcome Trust funded PhD at The University of Liverpool with the Brain Infections Group, where she examined the epidemiology of HIV infection and stroke in Malawi. As a visiting fellow in the Wang lab (Washington University in St. Louis, USA), she also contributed to the discovery of Parvovirus 4 as a potential cause of encephalitis in Indian children, using next-generation sequencing techniques. 

Her most recent work is focused on understanding the cellular relationship between HIV infection and cerebral endothelial dysfunction in a 3D in vitro model. The ultimate aim is to translate findings to human cohorts to facilitate biomarker and drug discovery for HIV associated cerebrovascular disease. She is a Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow, and the co-Principal Investigator of a large longitudinal cohort study of HIV positive patients starting antiretroviral therapy in Malawi. She leads Malawi’s first stroke unit's set-up, a multidisciplinary-driven project between UK and Malawi partners [https://malawistrokeunit.org/]. The group aspires to provide evidence-based, resource-sensitive stroke care to poor populations.

Research Summary

Despite successfully suppressing HIV infection with antiretroviral therapy (ART), cerebrovascular disease, including stroke and cognitive impairment, remains a dominant complication in this population. Dr Benjamin's prior work has shown that HIV is a leading risk factor of stroke in the young and can contribute to 15-30% of overall stroke presentations in endemic regions. There is good evidence that atherogenesis is part of the mechanism. Chronic inflammation and antiretrovirals are amongst confounders that obscure delineating the exact pathway to atherogenesis. The Neurovascular Unit (NVU) which consists of the cerebrovascular endothelium supported by astrocytes and pericytes is pivotal to maintaining blood vessel function and impeding HIV to enter the brain. To date, scientific advancement has been limited by developing experimental systems that replicates the NVU in its normal environment. Dr Benjamin seeks to use a powerful new in vitro multicellular 3D model of the NVU, with blood brain barrier (BBB) properties similar to those found in vivo, to investigate how HIV crosses the BBB, establishes NVU infection, and triggers endothelial dysfunction, a precursor for atherogenesis. Exploiting an established cohort of HIV patients on ART, phenotyped for cerebrovascular disease in Malawi, Dr Benjamin plans to verify the mechanistic insights from the in vitro findings in this population.

01-MAR-2021 Principal Clinical Research Fellow Lab for Molecular Cell Bio MRC-UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, United Kingdom
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