Scientist Focus: Bettina Platt
Professor Bettina Platt is the Chair of Translational Neuroscience at the University of Aberdeen and a member of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Grants Review Board.
What area of research does your lab focus on?
My lab focuses on nerve cell death and memory problems and we have developed a range of different techniques to study this – looking at single molecules all the way up to the whole brain. A particular focus for us is to translate findings from experimental work into people. This includes taking molecular events we have identified in our experiments and studying them in generously donated brain tissue to see what role they play in Alzheimer’s disease. We also use a sophisticated imaging technology called EEG to look at nerve cell communication in our laboratory experiments, as this technology is also used to study learning and memory processing in people.
Tell us about your career path to become a dementia researcher
I have always been fascinated by the potential of the brain to learn and adapt throughout life as well as the other side of the coin – nerve cell death and dementia. My PhD project looked into how some metals can damage nerve cells and affect brain function. I continued to work on the brain, studying a structure called the hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory, as well as another part of the brain involved in vision. Over the last 10 years, the focus of my research has been on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias looking at how we can improve our understanding of the earliest, disease-specific changes, and how we can prevent and/or treat these diseases.
You’re Coordinator of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Scotland Research Network. Why is collaboration so important in science?
The exchange of ideas and critical discussion of data has always played a big part in moving research forward. However, the scientific community has now realised how essential collaborative projects really are. Because of the highly specialised nature of new technologies and the high cost of research, working together is a vital way to produce complementary results more quickly. This is particularly important for Scotland, as excellent research facilities are distributed at the different universities.
Sum up in one sentence why dementia research is so important
Dementia is the most challenging and unmet health issue for our society, and concerns everybody either directly or indirectly.
Have you always wanted to be a scientist?
Yes, though I was also tempted to become an equine vet.
What’s the best thing about being a scientist?
Designing experiments, and analysing and interpreting data to unravel the mysteries of the brain and its disorders.
What do you do in your free time?
Music (I sing in a local choir) and sports. We have nine horses, and I love to spend my spare time on horseback exploring the Scottish countryside with my family.
What one thing couldn’t you live without?
My two- and four-legged family.