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Björn Vahsen

StateExamMed MD MSc DPhil

Postdoctoral Researcher and Fulford Junior Research Fellow


I graduated from medical school at the Georg-August-University Göttingen in Germany with a medical degree and a research MD (summa cum laude and prize for the best thesis of the year). My MD project (with Paul Lingor) focused on the role of autophagy in axonal degeneration and regeneration using cell models. I then completed the MSc in Neuroscience and a DPhil in Clinical Neurosciences at the Oxford Motor Neuron Disease Centre (with Kevin Talbot and Martin Turner), studying the role of microglia in ALS. I received the Postgraduate Prize 2023 from the British Neuroscience Association and the Felgenhauer Research Award 2023 for Young Neuroscientists from the German Neurological Society for my DPhil work. I am now continuing my research as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Talbot Lab and Junior Research Fellow at Somerville College.

For more details, have a listen to this interview with the Cortex Club podcast

Research Summary

My research focuses on the role of non-neuronal cells in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) pathophysiology and their potential as therapeutic targets. I have a particular interest in microglia (brain immune cells) and their contribution to motor neuron dysfunction and death in ALS. 

I use induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) models to derive ALS-relevant cell types (human microglia and motor neurons) from people with genetic forms of ALS to answer two main questions:

1) How do ALS-associated mutations affect microglial biology?

2) Do microglia with ALS-associated mutations affect motor neuron function and what are the underlying mechanisms?

I have developed a co-culture system of iPSC-derived motor neurons and microglia, allowing the investigation of how microglia affect motor neurons in ALS (Scientific Reports, 2022). Using this system, I have shown that microglia with the commonest ALS associated mutation, a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9orf72 gene, are pro-inflammatory and toxic to co-cultured motor neurons. This toxicity is partly mediated by MMP9 (Nature Communications, 2023).  

My work is funded by the Motor Neurone Disease Association, MND Scotland, a Medical Sciences pump priming grant, and an ARUK pump priming award.

Key publications

Recent publications

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