Dr Alexandra Brand

Dr Alexandra Brand
Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow

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Overview
Dr Alexandra Brand
Dr Alexandra Brand

Contact Details

Telephone
work +44 (0)1224 437495
work +44 (0)1224 437460
Email
Address
The University of Aberdeen MRC Centre for Medical Mycology, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition, University of Aberdeen, Room 4.22 Institute of Medical Sciences, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD. Office tel: +44 (0)1224-437495.

The Brand Lab is part of the Aberdeen Fungal Group:

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/ims/research/microbiology/aberdeen-fungal-group-602.php

The AFG is now the Medical Research Council Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Aberdeen.  Watch a short movie about the Brand group's research focus at:

https://www.abdn.ac.uk/cmm/public-engagement/research-stories.php

 

The AFG is also affiliated to the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award: Medical Mycology and Fungal Immunology Group:

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mmfi

 How I came to be a scientist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2IRfzpPJ9E

 

Biography

2017-22  Wellcome Senior Fellowship

2013       Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology

2011-present  Co-Lead, Microbiology Research Programme, University of Aberdeen

2010       British Mycological Society Berkeley Award for Early-Career Scientists

2010       Medical Research Council New Investigator

2009-17       Royal Society University Research Fellow

2004       PhD in Microbiology, University of Aberdeen

2000       Bsc Biochemistry 1st Class, University of Aberdeen

2005       Access Course, University of Aberdeen

Research

Research Interests

Directional growth in polarised cells

Eukaryotic cells that grow by polarised extension perform specialised, essential functions in vertebrates, plants and fungi.  This disparate group of cells, which includes neurons, pollen tubes, root hairs and fungal hyphae, all share a similar function – they extend through their environment in order to make contact with their own specific target.  To be successful, they must be able to interpret local signals that tell them which direction to grow (navigate) and they must be able to change their direction of growth if necessary (steer).  The environmental signals that help neurons, pollen tubes and fungi to navigate differ greatly but they may share similar steering mechanisms because the cell components that regulate polarised growth are highly conserved.  We are using the dimorphic fungus, Candida albicans, as a model organism in which to study how polarised cells navigate and steer.  C. albicans displays tropic, or pre-programmed, growth behaviour under certain conditions and we are using these responses to study the molecular links between environmental signalling and the machinery that drives tip re-orientation.   We have shown that loss of normal regulation in the hyphal tip correlates with the inability of the fungus to form normal lesions in internal organs during systemic infection.  We want to understand which signals within the human body influence how the hyphal tip behaves during disease progression.

Applied Mycology

Fungi are nature's great re-cyclers and can degrade all kinds of organic and inorganic material into the simple building blocks needed for new growth.  The downside of this phenomenon for human health is that fungi biodegrade medical plastic devices, causing them to malfunction and need replacing.  The upside is that fungi produce a host of bioactive compounds that can be harnessed for medical and industrial use.  With collaborators in the Pharmacy and Chemistry Departments at Queen's Belfast and the University of Edinburgh, respectively, we are interested in both combating and exploiting the complexities of fungal growth.

Collaborations

Dr Karl Malcolm, School of Pharmacy, Queens University Belfast (Enhanced drug delivery)

Dr Andrew Goryachev, Computational Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh (Cell polarity)

Dr Barnaby Greenland, University of Reading (Pharmaceutical chemistry)

Professor Peter Sudbery, University of Sheffield  (Polarised growth in fungi)

Cheryl Gale, MD, University of Minnesota  (Fungal tip regulation and pathogenesis)

Dr Dominic Campopiano, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh

Mr Kim Ah-See, ENT Consultant, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

Dr Marco Thiel, University of Aberdeen (Mathematical Biology)

Professor Paul Janmey, University of Pennsylvania (Cell mechanics)

Professor Joe Heitman, Duke University, N. Carolina (Evolution & host-sensing in pathogenic fungi)

Dr Steve Diggle, University of Nottingham (Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum-sensing)

Dr Alison Crossley, Department of Materials, University of Oxford (Surface chemistry)

 

Research Grants

2015  Wellcome Trust ISSF Seed-corn award

2015  Wellcome Trust Strategic Award studentship

2015  University of Aberdeen Elphinstone studentship

2014  BBSRC Eastbio PhD studentship

2013  SEB-funded 4-year PhD studentship

2013  EU Marie Curie studentship 'FungiBrain' with N. Gow, Co-ordinator: Nick Read, Manchester

2012  MSD-SULSA award

2012  MRC Centenary Fund Award

2012  BMS Summer Studentship

2011  Royal Society Equipment Grant

2011  BMS Summer Studentship

2010  BBSRC PhD studentship

2009 MRC New Investigator Grant

2009 - 2017 Royal Society University Research Fellowship

2007 BBSRC Researcher Co-Investigator (project grant with Prof Neil AR Gow)

Teaching

Teaching Responsibilities

3rd-Year MC3504 Microbiology practical course

MSc MC5507  Current Techniques in Microbiology

1st-Year SM1501 The Cell 'Fungi - Moulds, Manufacturers and Models'

Honours Year Statistics workshop

Personal tutor for Biochemistry, Genetics, Immunology and Biotechnology undergraduates.

Further Info

External Responsibilities

BBSRC Committee E Member

Royal Society Newton International Fellowship Panel

Royal Society Research Grant Board: Biological Sciences

 

 

Admin Responsibilities

Co-Lead Microbiology Programme

Academic Line Manager

Course Co-ordinator: MB5024 MRes

The tropic growth of Candida albicans hyphae is calcium-dependent.

? 

False colour image of thigmotropic growth of C. albicans hyphae on a microfabricated quartz slide with a ridge height of 3.25 ?m.  Growing hyphal tips change direction on contact with obstacles in the substratum.  Deletion of calcium ion channels, or removal of calcium from the growth medium, reduces the sensitivity of hyphal tips to changes in the substratum.

C. albicans hyphae form 2-dimension sinusoidal curves and 3-dimensional helices when grown on semi-solid  medium.  Septa are generally located at the apices of alternate curves, suggesting that curve formation is linked to the cell-cycle.  The formation of curved hyphae is attenuated in mutant strains where calcium ion channels have been deleted, so normal calcium flux and homeostasis is required for the initiation of this growth behaviour.

Like many tip-growing cells, C. albicans hyphae align towards the cathode in an applied electric field.  This effect can be heightened or reduced by the addition or chelation of calcium ions, respectively.

 

Group Members                                      Past Members

Tina Bedekovic                                         Dr Silvia Wehmeier

Mariana Almeida                                       Emma Morrison                                     

Ben Rutter                                               Dr Darren Thomson                             

Ijeoma Okoliegbe                                     Dr Brandon Childers

Angela Lopez

Maria-Louise Williams

                                    

Public Engagement

UK Fungus Day 2017 'Fantastic Fungi' - part of the City of Aberdeen Explorathon Programme

Royal Society 2016 Summer Science Exhibition ' Killer Fungus' : https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/summer-science-exhibition/exhibits/killer-fungus/

The Royal Society 'I wasn't always a Scientist: https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/leading-way-diversity/i-wasnt-always-a-scientist/

The Hay Festival, 2014:  'The Next Big Thing': http://www.hayfestival.com/p-8222-liz-tunbridge-alexandra-brand-lucie-green-and-ana-cavalcanti.aspx and https://royalsociety.org/events/2014/05/the-next-big-thing/

Naked Science broadcast:  http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/show/2011.08.28/

Naked Science webpage: http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/interviews/interview/1783/

Publications

Publications 

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