Every experience changes our brains, but there is more to learn about what the exact changes are. Rhys Livingstone is a PhD student mentored by Associate Professor Joanna Williams, and he is studying these changes at the molecular level. Rhys was the recipient of the 2019 Helen Rosa Thacker Scholarship in Neurological Research, which has supported him through the final year of his PhD, along with the extra challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rhys is particularly interested in a protein that protects neurons from toxins and helps to boost memory. This protein, called secreted amyloid precursor protein-alpha (sAPPα), is beneficial to neurons and Rhys studied the specific mechanisms of how these benefits came about. By using cutting-edge tools, Rhys examined the receptors that neurons expressed in response to sAPPα treatment. He identified the newly-synthesised receptors, as well as those on the plasma membrane, where many of these are active.
Rhys's work not only helps us to understand better how neurons work in the healthy brain, but could also have important implications for boosting memory or for diseases where memories are lost. Receiving this scholarship has made a big impact on Rhys: “with COVID-19 coming when it did, I wouldn't have been able to complete my thesis work in time without the support of the Helen Rosa Thacker Scholarship in Neurological Research”.