Dr Hazel Hall-Roberts (née Roberts) joined the lab in 2016, to research the role of microglia in Alzheimer’s disease. Microglia are immune cells that maintain a healthy brain environment by clearing up pathogens and ‘self’-made debris through a process called phagocytosis (‘cell eating’). Pathogens provoke a fuIl immune response, but ‘self’ debris usually does not. In an Alzheimer’s brain, microglial phagocytosis is impaired, and the microglia enter a state of chronic inflammation, in the absence of pathogens. Hazel’s current project is jointly supervised by Dr Sally Cowley, and Dr Elena Di Daniel at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute. Their main goal is to develop assays and tools for investigating microglial function in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly their ability to clear neuronal debris via phagocytosis, using iPSC-derived macrophages as a cell model.
Hazel graduated from the University of Bristol in 2012 with a BSc in Biochemistry with Year in Industry, having spent a year working at GlaxoSmithKline Stevenage. At GlaxoSmithKline her research project looked at epigenetic proteins involved in the acute inflammation response of macrophages. This was followed by a PhD at the University of Bath (2012-16) with Professor David Brown, conducting research on α-synuclein, a protein that disrupts cell function in Parkinson’s disease, and how it promotes neuronal cell secretion of β-amyloid, a peptide that plays a key role in Alzheimer’s disease.