Professor Robert Fern
Professor in Translational Neurobiology
Peninsula Medical School (Faculty of Health)
2019-present Associate Dean-Research, Faculty of Health, Plymouth University.
2019-2020 Director, Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine, Plymouth University.
2017-2019 Lead, Biomedical Research Group, Plymouth University.
2017-present UoA1 coordinator REF2021, Plymouth University.
2016-present Director and Chair (2018), PMS Facilities Ltd.
2014-2018 Academic lead, Derriford Research Facility (DRF) Project Board.
2013-2019 Safety Manager, FoMD, Plymouth University.
2013-present Professor, Plymouth University
2008-2013 Professor, University of Leicester.
2002-2008 Reader, University of Leicester.
1996-2002 Research Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, University of Washington.
1994-1996 Associate Research Scientist, Department of Neurology, Yale University.
1992-1994 Post-Doctoral fellow, Department of Neurology, Yale University.
2017-2020 Science Advisory Council, Ontario Brain Institute.
2015-present Affiliate Professor (honorary), University of Malta
2014-present Alzheimer’s UK South-West network committee.
2013-present Fellow, Higher Education Academy.
2013-present Home office project and personal license holder.
2013-present AWERB, faculty representative.
2013-2020 Ontario Brain Institute: CP-NET Science Innovation Team.
2002-2011 Affiliate Faculty (Neurology), University of Washington.
2004-2011 Graduate Medical Degree Committee, University of Leicester.
2003-2005 Board of Studies, School of Biological Science, University of Leicester.
2003-2013 Graduate Tutor, Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Leicester.
2002-2012 Senior planning group, Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Leicester.
2002-2003 Study Section MDCN-3, NINDS, NIH.
2001-2002 Director, Cell Imaging Core, University of Washington.
1999-2002 Independent Study in Medical Science coordinator, University of Washington.
1999-2002 Scientific Board, Pediatric Epilepsy Research Council, University of Washington.
1996-2002 Affiliate, Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington.
2015-present: Delivery: BHCS3001 (student projects). FoH, University of Plymouth.
2015-present: Delivery: BHC3007: (third year Biomedical sciences). FoH, University of Plymouth.
2016-present: Delivery: BHCS2001: (second year Biomedical sciences). FoH, University of Plymouth.
My laboratory is interested in neurological disorders and has a focus on early events in the disease process. We strive to understand the first steps in the pathology underlying conditions such as stroke, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis as well as dementia. We believe that to understand the cellular origin of the disorder will allow development of preventative strategies and removing the need to repair the brain. The brain is the most complicated thing in the universe and correspondingly hard to fix once damaged.
Within this field we focus on two underappreciated parts of the brain: glial cells and white matter. While we are all familiar with the little grey brain cells called neurons, which intergrade and store information, glial cells are less well known. Glial cells in fact outnumber neurons and play a multitude of roles including supporting neurons and regulating their extracellular environment, but also contributing in many ways to the neural processing that is the function of the organ. White matter is the internet of the brain, and houses the axons that interconnect neurons together. Because our brains are large and complex, it requires a lot of wiring and in fact about half of the human brain is white matter. Injury to glial cells or white matter are as important in neurological disease as is injury to neurons and grey matter, but receives much less attention. It may well be that this shortfall in emphasis on glia and white matter explains the slow and halting progress we have achieved toward effective interventions for many forms of brain disorder.
In my laboratory we use a variety of approaches that include electrophysiology, electron microscopy, confocal cell imaging and molecular biology to discover the early pathways to injury. We collaborate internationally with laboratories using complimentary techniques. We were the first group to describe the presence of functional calcium channels on mammalian axons, were one of several groups to first show that oligodendroglia express NMDA glutamate receptors that are central to injury of this cell type, and the first to describe glutamate release from axons via the fusion of vesicles.
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
- 1) 2004-2008 James Alix PhD*. NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow, University of Sheffield.
- 2) 2007-2010 Antonio Domingues PhD*. Currently post-doc at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
- 3) 2004-2008/2010 Phillip Vermehren PhD*. Medical doctor in the Neurology department at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield.
- 4) 2011-2012 Narasimha Murthy MRes*. Returned to India to pursue career.
- 5) 2011-2012 Rebecca Arkell. MRes*. Technician at Phillips Research.
- 6) 2009-2013 Badrah Alghamdi. PhD*. Associate Professor, Saudi Arabia
- 7) 2009-2013 Huria Elmesmari. PhD*. Currently faculty in Libya.
- 8) 2010-2014 Mellisa Trotman. PhD*. Post-Doc, University of Leicester.
- 9) 2012-2016 Hiwa Latif. PhD (University of Leicester).
- 10) 2014-2018 Sean Doyle. PhD*. Post-Doc, Ireland.
- 11) 2015-2019 Sarah Ellwood*. PhD student, (University of Plymouth).
- 12) 2016-2020 Chris Bulman* PhD student, (University of Plymouth).
- 13) 2018-present Verity Mitchener*. PhD student, (University of Plymouth).
- 14) 2019-present Gideon Stone*. ResM student, (University of Plymouth).
- 15) 2019-present Dan Morgan*. PhD student, (University of Plymouth).
- 16) 2019-present TBA*. PhD student, (University of Plymouth).
* Principle supervisor.
Grants & contracts
2020-2023 ‘Chronic infection and stroke injury’ PDSE PhD studentship PI: R. Fern.Direct costs: £69,000
2020-2023 ‘Pre-clinical targets for vascular dementia treatment.’ Brace PhD studentship.PI: R. Fern.Direct costs: £91,000
2018-2021 ‘The vulnerability of white matter to induction of a human tau mutation associated with dementia.’ Brace PhD studentship. PI: R. Fern. Direct costs: £90,000
2016-2019 ‘Focal ischemic injury in vitro. PI: R. Fern. Internal PhD studentshipDirect costs: £84,000
2016-2020 ‘Tackling autophagy and apoptosis for the potential therapy of Huntington's Disease’ PI: Shouqing Luo. £515,000CI: R. Fern: 5% effort. MRC (MR/M023605/1)
2014-2018 ‘Toxicant-induced synaptic dysfunction and neurotoxicity in Parkinson's disease’.NIH (R01 ES22274-01A1). PI: Kim Tieu.$737,220 CI: R. Fern: 5% effort
2014-2017 ‘Manipulating mitochondrial dynamics as a potential therapeutic strategy for Parkinson's disease’. PI: Kim Tieu. £511, 230MRC (MR/L022079/1) CI: R. Fern: 5% effort.
2014-2017 ‘Ion homeostasis in optic nerve astrocytes.’ PI: R. Fern. Direct costs: £425,069. BBSRC (BB/J016969/1).
2014-2017 Internal PhD studentship ‘Glutamate release mechanisms in white matter’. PI: R. Fern. Direct costs: £62,000
2015-2018 Internal PhD studentship ‘Astrocyte populations and disease’. PI: R. Fern. Direct costs: £62,000
2005-2007 "A new paradigm in ischemic brain diseases." Direct costs: £28,480. Medisearch, Leicester.
2004-2006 "Voltage-gated calcium channels in developing central axons." Direct costs: £35,600. Medisearch, Leicester.
2002-2009 "Ischemic injury of neonatal CNS white matter." Direct costs: $1,150,000. National Institutes of Health. USA.
1999 Infrastructure supplement. Direct costs: $50,000. National Institutes of Health. USA.
1997-2002 "Ischemic injury of neonatal CNS white matter." Direct costs: $345,000. National Institutes of Health, USA.
Key publications are highlightedJournals