Fiona McLean

+44 (0)1382 383639
Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Biography

Fiona graduated from the University of Dundee in 2012 with a Joint Honours in Biochemistry and Pharmacology. She went on to complete an EASTBIO BBSRC funded PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Aberdeen under the supervision of Professor Lynda Williams, Dr Fiona Campbell and Dr Rosamund Langston (University of Dundee). During her PhD she investigated the impact of a high-fat diet on memory. Following her PhD, Fiona is now a postdoctoral research scientist on a collaborative Wellcome Trust drug discovery project with the University of Sussex. The project is supervised by Professor Jeremy Lambert and Dr Rosamund Langston and is investigating novel compounds to treat Huntington’s disease.

Research

Fiona’s research interests lie in learning and memory with a particular focus on neurodegenerative diseases. During her PhD she investigated how eating an unhealthy diet may lead to early cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease is now one of the biggest global killers, however there is no cure and limited treatments available. It is therefore crucial to understand what can lead to the development of the disease. Obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are driven by a high-fat diet are associated with the development of premature cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. To further elucidate the link between diet and memory Fiona’s research investigated the effects of a high-fat diet on episodic and associative memory. The findings from her project showed that complex memory types are more vulnerable to impairment by a high-fat diet and that this can happen within days of consuming a high-fat diet. She also revealed that these deficits can be reversed by eating a low-fat diet. Following these findings, Fiona carried out proteomic studies showing that within days a high-fat diet can cause changes to proteins involved in metabolism, the immune system, cell signalling and the cytoskeleton. Further studies using hippocampal cell culture techniques revealed that the cytoskeleton of neurons is compromised by saturated fat however this can be alleviated by the presence of unsaturated fat. This research is currently submitted for publication.

Fiona is currently a postdoctoral researcher on a Wellcome Trust funded drug discovery project in collaboration with the University of Sussex which aims to develop treatments for Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s disease is an inherited, neurodegenerative disease which usually presents itself with symptoms of hyperkinesia. However, the earliest signs of the disease are personality changes and memory loss. Fiona is a behavioural neuropharmacologist working on the development of cognitive enhancing drugs which target subtypes of GABA receptors in the hippocampus in order to treat the impaired cognitive abilities that occur in Huntington’s disease.

Grants and Awards

• Grass Foundation award for attending the Neurobiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, June 2016, $5500

• Genentech award for attending the Neurobiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, June 2016, $3574

• Principal's Excellence Fund (University of Aberdeen), March 2016, £500

• British Society for Neuroendocrinology International Conference Travel Grant, November 2014, £500

• Experimental Psychology Society Grindley Grant for Conference Attendance, November 2014, £500

• British Society for Neuroendocrinology Project Support Grant, July 2013, £2450

Prizes

• Cuthbertson Prize joint winner (2015)

• Rural and Environmental Science & Analytical Services Main Research Providers PhD Competition 3rd prize (2015).

• Public Engagement Prize-“I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here!” (2014).

Additional Training

• Neurobiology Course (June 1st - July 30th 2016), Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

• Three month secondment (September 21st – December 21st 2014) to the Scottish Government to write and develop public health policy.

Lectures and conferences

  • Scottish Neuroscience Group Conference, Scotland, UK, 25th August 2017; High-fat diet and cognition: rapid but reversible changes in associative memory processing.
  • University of California Santa Cruz, California, USA, 17th November 2016; The Effects of a High-Fat Diet on Memory: From Dendrites to Behaviour.
  • Laboratory Animal Science Association (LASA) Winter Meeting, Brighton, England, UK, 25th to 27th November 2015; Presentation: What Test is Best? Testing Memory and Nutrition in Rodents.
  • Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) Scotland Network Annual Meeting, Dundee, Scotland, UK, 6th October 2015; Presentation: Rapid and reversible effects of over-nutrition on cognition.

Impact

Fiona frequently takes part in public engagement activities including open days, local science festivals, Pecha Kucha events and Bright Club. Previously she took part in the science engagement competition “I’m A Scientist…Get Me Out Of Here!” which she went on to win. With the prize money she made a video about “What is it like to be a scientist?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIK3fI8Jv_0