Project Title: Exploring the gene regulatory dynamics of the maturing human brain
Host Organisation: University of Cape Town, South Africa
Our brains consist of many different cell types. The DNA in each of these cells is an instruction booklet providing directions for which genes must be activated to ensure each cell type is working properly. As our brains mature, different genetic instructions are being activated and turned off. Also, when the brain is challenged by infections, the cells activate specific genes in response to the disease. In developing countries, such as South Africa, diseases that affect the brain are a serious concern. Diseases like tuberculosis (TB) commonly affect the brains of children and often result in death. Understanding how our brain cells respond to infection will help us develop treatments that cater to each patient’s specific genetic response. However, to do this, we first need to know how the brain functions normally. I am proposing to analyse the genes that are activated in brain cells that have not been challenged by infection. The brain tissue will come from donors who are undergoing necessary surgery at local hospitals. I will determine which genes are being activated, how they are being switched on and off and how the pattern of activation changes when brain cells from children are compared to adults. It is important that this information comes from the local population because, in the future, we will be able to compare our findings to similar research done on brain cells from local children who have TB. We will then be able to use this information to provide more effective disease treatment.