Edinburgh Research Explorer

Dr. Mark Head

(Former employee or visitor)

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Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Edinburgh
The Regulation Of Crystallin Gene Expression
Bachelor of Science, The University of Edinburgh


I am a molecular and cellular biologist, with an honours degree in Genetics from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in cell differentiation, transdifferentiation and crystallin gene expression in the eye (University of Edinburgh). I have pursued post-doctoral study of growth factors in the eye at INSERM U118 (Paris, France) and post-doctoral studies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (NYC, USA) on Alexander’s disease, astrocytes and stress protein expression and function. In 1998 I returned to the UK and established a molecular and cell biology laboratory at the National CJD Research & Surveillance Unit (NCJDRSU, University of Edinburgh). I am a Reader at the University of Edinburgh and a Principal Investigator at the NCJDRSU and the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences. My current roles are in Unit management, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease diagnosis, and basic and applied prion disease research.

Research Interests

I am interested in proteins in the eye and the brain, and how these proteins come to be involved in diseases. Protein misfolding is a common feature of diverse diseases, including lens crystallin proteins leading to cataract, glial filament proteins in brain cells called astrocytes in Alexander’s disease and the prion protein in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare fatal neurological condition and the prototypic human prion disease. Prions replicate and spread within the brain resulting in neurodegeneration, but prions can also be transmitted between people and between animals and people. They exhibit strains-like properties and yet prions appear to be composed solely of a misfolded form of the prion protein. In this sense they comprise a novel class of epigenetic infectious pathogens. My current work involves studying the human prions that cause CJD in the tissues of patients who have died from the disease and establishing molecular and cellular models as alternatives to animal experimentation.

Current Research Interests

My current CJD research uses human tissue-based approaches and cellular and cell-free model systems to:

Determine whether definable molecular strains underlie the clinico-pathological heterogeneity of human prion diseases.

Define the cellular risk factors for susceptibility to human prion infection

Develop sensitive and discriminatory tests for human prions

Determine the risks to human health associated with emergent animal prion diseases

Investigate the effects of molecular chaperones on the process of pathological protein misfolding

My research in a nutshell

My research concerns the biochemistry, genetics and cell biology of the class of epigenetic pathogens known as prions, which cause fatal neurodegenerative conditions such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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