Brier Rigby Dames

Discovering Transcriptional Signatures of Brain Ageing and Neurodegenerative Diseases Using Machine Learning

Project Summary

The brain changes across the lifespan with regards to gene expression, structure and function. Research in humans and model organisms can help establish a normal trajectory against which to compare atypical ageing, such as neurodegenerative diseases; the most prevalent of which is Alzheimer’s Disease, followed by Parkinson’s Disease. Neurobiological research can contribute to the understanding of the development of these debilitating conditions and explore whether they are examples of accelerated ageing.

This project will investigate the use of machine learning (ML) techniques in brain ageing and transcriptomic research. The transcriptome refers to the expression levels of RNA; here, I will focus on the messenger RNA which are complementary to genes. Since RNA sequencing data contains thousands of gene rows, ML algorithms can increase the efficiency of the search for important genes, parsing through the complexity. Firstly, the project will involve analysing the transcriptome of human tissues to identify genes associated with cellular longevity, utilising regression ML models. Secondly, I will examine whether these longevity-associated genes are downregulated in individuals with neurodegenerative diseases and across specific brain regions over time.

Subsequently, my research will analyse the transcriptomes of other mammalian species, including primates, to establish if these longevity-associated genes are expressed differently across the phylogenetic tree. Additionally, this comparative analysis will allow for uncovering biological constraints and evolutionary perspectives of ageing. My aim is to discover gene candidates associated with accelerated ageing and these diseases of the brain, which with further experimental research, has the potential to reveal biological targets for therapeutic interventions.

Research Interests

Modelling brain development and ageing.

Genomics, comparative transcriptomics and machine learning, and the surrounding ethical considerations.

The use and regulation of AI and robotics in the areas of health care, bioinformatics and education.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCI), for neurorehabilitation for those with neurodegenerative and neurological disorders.

Diagnostics and prevention of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Neuroanatomy and neuroimaging.

Background

BSc Biology and Psychology (Joint Honours) at the University of Stirling

MSc Psychological Research Methods, specialising in neuroscience, at Birkbeck, University of London

I worked as an RA at the University of Cambridge for almost two years: in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Education, and then at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health. I also worked as an analyst in the areas of AI ethics, cybersecurity, and healthcare. Most recently, I was a project assistant for the software team at CMR Surgical.

Supervisors

Dr Michael Proulx

Dr Alexandra de Sousa

Dr Araxi Urrutia

Dr Sandipan Roy