Profile – Ajantha Abey, University of Oxford

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Ajantha Abey


Ajantha Abey

Job title:

PhD Student

Place of work / study:

Kavli Institute / Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics at the University of Oxford

Area of Research:

I’m interested in the cellular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases of the ageing brain. Previously, I looked at neuropathology in dogs with dementia and potential stem cell replacement therapies. I now use induced pluripotent stem cell derived neurons to try and model selective neuronal vulnerability: the phenomenon where some cells die but others remain resilient to neurodegenerative diseases.

How is your work funded?

I am funded by an Oxford Clarendon Scholarship and departmental studentship.

Tell us a little about yourself:

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney. I did a combined Bachelors of Science and Arts, majoring in Neuroscience, Latin, and Ancient History. (I always wanted to do science or engineering and the fact that I could combine Latin and Science at Sydney Uni sealed the deal for me!).

I thought after high school that I quite liked chemistry but that didn’t survive thermodynamics in first year. I had taken psychology on a whim though and really enjoyed the neurobiology lectures in human biology so I went down that rabbit hole and ended up majoring in neuroscience, with Honours in Anatomy and Histology.

For my honours year, I found myself in the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Centre looking at neuropathology and cell therapy in canine dementia, and I stayed on afterwards as an RA. The findings I made during my time there led me to the idea of selective neuronal vulnerability – why some cells and brain regions are affected by pathology early in disease but not others. I thus moved to Oxford in 2020 to start my PhD examining those questions using induced pluripotent stem cell models.

Outside of research I also do a lot of teaching! I loved neuroanatomy as an undergraduate and still teach on the same course I met my partner in 6 years ago, as well as demonstrating and teaching tutorials here at Oxford. I’m also passionate about diversity and have participated in a number of committees/rep roles to that end. Otherwise, I also do some photography, listen to more podcasts than I can count, and probably follow US/world politics too closely for my own good.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself:

I’m really involved in quadball! (and have been for near 10 years now). I’ve been president, captain, and coach of a club, once was a board member for Quadball Australia, and even have my own quadball photography page.

Why did you choose to work in dementia?

Part of what I found fascinating about neuroscience at university was not just how the brain worked but how it changed throughout ageing – and why it can be so different across the population. I had a particular fascination for memory and cognitive abilities which led me into Alzheimer’s, and I felt like dementia research could be a good and productive use of my general interest in how the brain works. The diseases of ageing more broadly – from neurodegenerative disease to cancers and cardiovascular diseases – feel like the next big frontier in medicine that we are starting to get a handle on and going to be faced with in the coming decades with ageing populations. We need all hands on deck to help tackle what are extremely complicated and closely interlinked conditions and help everyone live better and healthier lives for longer – which to me is what medicine and medical research is all about.

What single piece of advice would you give to an early career researcher?

Say yes to opportunities – you miss every shot you don’t take. I think this is broadly true but especially if you have the chance to do teaching, do it! You learn the most from teaching others, it’s very rewarding, and well worth it.

What book are you reading right now? Would you recommend it?

In Science – “The Idea of the Brain” by Matthew Cobb was a great read about the history of neuroscience and how technology has shaped our conception of how the brain works. In Fiction – I just finished the Mistborn Triology by Brandon Sanderson which was a really fun fantasy series with a cool and well developed magic system!

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