Sep 10, 2021 · 2 min read

Finding Hope in Tragedy, Married Scientists Team Up To Battle Brain Disease


From Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s, neurodegenerative diseases are on the rise — yet few therapies exist to combat them. That’s why the Collaborative Pairs program at CZI’s Neurodegeneration Challenge Network (NDCN) is bringing together scientists to explore new ideas and new approaches.

Meet science power couple Soyon Hong and Tim Bartels: two researchers at the UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL who have found hope in the midst of personal tragedy by combining their scientific expertise in a new project supported by the NDCN.

Learn more about how the NDCN empowers scientists to pursue bold ideas in order to accelerate the science of neurodegeneration — and ultimately, the path to treatments.

A women wears a wedding dress and smiles while dancing with her father. Colorful illustrations are behind them.

Losing my dad to Alzheimer’s disease was heartbreaking. But I have hope for the future, hope that society will one day be able to detect and treat brain diseases early.

Two scientists work at a lab table and look at samples through a microscope.

I am a scientist. So is my husband. We’re working together on a new approach to neurodegeneration.

Two people and their toddler eat at a table. The table is an illustration.

Our research starts with a question we’ve discussed for a long time at the dinner table: Does brain health begin in the gut?

Two x-ray images of the brain on a colorful background.

The brain and the gut are connected by nerve cells (called the enteric nervous system). This gut-brain axis is a hot topic in research because it could be a conduit for disease.

A man smiles and is shown in a Polaroid picture labeled "Tim Bartels."

Tim studies a protein known to build up in the gut during Parkinson’s disease before any signs of illness appear. Known as alpha-synuclein, this protein later forms clumps in the brain during the disease.

I look at how nerve cells are protected by immune cells called tissue-resident macrophages. Are these cells failing during disease? Could this cause protein to build up and spread?

Two parents kneels and pose with their two children. Everyone smiles and illustrations of marathon runners are in the background.

The two of us have worked on lots of projects together over the years — from that half-marathon we ran early in our relationship to our two kids.

A women in a wedding dress, groom and the women's father smile. Two laughing children are shown in the foreground.

But this is the first scientific collaboration between our two labs. You might say it’s the perfect marriage of our expertise!

Enjoy this story? Read about another pair of scientists who have teamed up to study, treat and prevent rare pediatric diseases.

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