Stem Cells in Focus

Member Spotlight on Selina Wray, PhD

  • 17 April, 2017
Barnsley, South Yorkshire, U.K.

Current Residence
London, U.K.

Graduate Degree
PhD in Neuroscience, Kings College London

Current Position
Alzheimer’s Research UK Senior Research Fellow, University College London, Institute of Neurology

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

My research is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of dementia, with a particular focus on two diseases: Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).  There are currently no disease-modifying therapies for these diseases, so they represent a huge public health challenge.  
Dementia research is a priority area in the UK currently, and the Medical Research Council has just established the UK Dementia Research Institute – the first research institute to be 100% dedicated to dementia research.  The Hub for this will be located at UCL, with Centers around the UK.  It’s a really exciting time to be working in this area and it’s given the dementia research community a renewed sense of drive and purpose moving forward.
There are many rewarding aspects to my job – the environment at the Institute of Neurology is truly multidisciplinary, with neurologists, geneticists, neuropathologists and cell biologists all working alongside each other.  It’s really rewarding to feel part of a process, and see the whole pipeline from bench to bedside laid out ahead of you in one Institute.  


What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

I started working with stem cells after joining Professor John Hardy’s laboratory as a junior research fellow in 2009.  I had worked extensively with post-mortem tissue from AD and FTD during in my PhD, and wanted to change my focus to disease modeling and trying to understand early stages of these diseases rather than working with end-stage samples.
Although we didn’t have a stem cell lab at the time, the Institute of Neurology is co-located with the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen Square.  This means we have unrivalled access to well-phenotyped patient cohorts, including those with rare, genetic forms of dementia.  We collaborate extensively with our clinical colleagues and were able to build up a resource of fibroblasts from AD and FTD patients.  However, we had no idea how to turn these into iPSC!  I was really lucky that I was able to spend some time in Dr Tilo Kunath’s lab at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where I learnt how to do reprogramming and which allowed me to set up an iPSC lab back at UCL.  What started off as a postdoc allowed me to find my niche and laid the foundations for what would go on to be my own group. 

How do you spend your free time?

There’s so much going on in London its impossible to get bored, and I try to take advantage of this as much as possible.  We’re really lucky to have so many free museums and galleries – my favourite is Tate Modern, and I can spend many Sunday afternoons there enjoying the exhibits and the fantastic views along the river.  I also really enjoy live music and go to lots of gigs especially at Brixton Academy, which is close to where I live – not good for my wallet!

What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a huge fan of tattoos and have four – one on each foot, one on my upper leg and one on my back.  Generally hidden from view, especially in the English weather, although they do make appearances over summer! 

What do you value most about your membership with the ISSCR?

Although I have been using stem cells in my research for a number of years, I used to view them just as a “means to an end” to generate relevant models.  But to get the most out of them it is really crucial to keep up with the research in this area and appreciate the developmental context of the cells.  Working in this area has really reignited my interest in neurodevelopment and this prompted me to join ISSCR to become more engaged with the wider stem cell community. I am really excited about attending my first ISSCR meeting in June!