Graduate student in Immunology
Name: Bryan C.
Birthplace: Pontiac, Michigan
Field of Study: Immunology / Neuroscience
What organism do you study?: Humans! (Human Brain)
Favorite thing about science: I get to talk and wonder about how and why the universe works with a bunch of other people who like to think about the universe.
Fun Facts: I have a puppy named Teddy, and I used to work at NASA trying to figure out how to help humans live in space!
Follow me on Twitter! @bryjcannon
Does our body hurt or protect our brains as we get older?
At Stanford, I study how cells in your brain defend against infections or other problems, and how this process can go wrong. These cells are called immune cells and are everywhere in your body, in multiple combinations. They are designed to fight bacteria and viruses from taking over our bodies, especially our brain! They can also start to beat up our own tissue if certain things go wrong. While most people look at how our immune cells work in the blood, I look to see how they work in the brain – much harder to study in humans! Luckily, there are many people who are willing to donate their brains for scientific research and the hope we can help others live longer.
I specifically study what characteristics the immune system takes on in human Alzheimer’s disease. This disease affects the brain, breaking down cells that control memory, language, and other processes. Mostly in older people, this disease affects 6 million Americans and currently has no effective therapies, and we’re still not sure what causes the disease. What we do know is people with Alzheimer’s have bunches of proteins called plaques or tangles in their brain, and people have tried in the past to develop medicine to clear these proteins. This hasn’t worked in helping patients however, so we now need to look at other potential causes. This is where the immune system comes in!
The primary immune cells in the brain are called microglia – they look like little blobs with arms sticking out at every angle. In healthy people, they move throughout the brain, searching for infection or cleaning up dead tissue. In brains of people with Alzheimer's Disease, we’re not sure if they’re hurting the brain by being angry and over-reactive, or trying to help but just too tired out. I look at all the different combinations of microglia and try to see what types of microglia might be hurting brain cells in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dark band and spots: Cell bodies
Lighter area: Neuron tracts
Human Brain Section
I have many different questions I’m pursuing! I really want to know how the human brain works, and how our brains change as we get older or diseased. Some questions are:
How do immune cells talk to our brain cells? How similar or different is their language?
What is the difference in brain’s between older people and people with Alzheimer’s Disease?
Are brain immune cells required for normal development in humans?
Do you have any questions about human brain? Immune cells? Space biology? Being a biologist at Stanford? Ask me by clicking below!