Meet the Researcher

Richard Wingate: Peering into the Stems of Brain Development

  • Published11 Mar 2019
  • Reviewed11 Mar 2019
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

From his schooldays making microscope slides out of tape to his current position as Head of Anatomy at King’s College London studying the developing brain, Richard Wingate has always had a passion for science and gaining an understanding of how we move, hear, and think.



RICHARD WINGATE: My name is Richard Wingate, I’m the head of Anatomy at Kings College London and I am a principal investigator in the MRC center for neurodevelopment disorders.

TEXT: What is your field of study?

RW: I’m a neuroscientist who looks at the developing brain and in that context, I’m interested in how we move, how we hear. I work on structures such as the cerebellum. The auditory brainstem. The auditory brainstem is the part of the brain which contains the neurons which receive signals from the ear and also from your organs of balance. And so those inputs are then fed through the cortex, which is the part of your brain up here, which processes all our sensory information and is also used by a part of the brain back here, the cerebellum to process unconscious responses to the environment. So it’s an important router for all that sensory information through to various parts of the brain. And in that role, absolutely central to the way that we think, sense, and feel

TEXT: What is your Interest in the developing brain?

RW: My interest in the development of the brain stem and the cerebellum stems essentially from a passion in understanding how circuits and networks develop and evolve. The circuits of the brain stem and the cerebellum are produced by migrating populations of neurons which are following elaborate queues that we don’t quite understand and in doing these movements through the brain and sending out projections of contacts that are forming the circuits which underlie the way we think and understanding the instructions which these cells are responding to is going to tell us an enormous amount about how, not only these circuits develop, but how the whole brain develops in both humans and in animals. One of the nice things about development is it gives us an opportunity to see where the brain comes from in the early embryo and how that process of development is modified in different species to give different outcomes. So evolution informs development, development informs evolution and both of those go together to inform function in humans and also give us a perspective disease.

TEXT: How did you become interested in neuroscience?

RW: The first memory I have of being interested in science goes back to the schoolyard. The primary school playground in the UK, where I collected bits of fluff and dust off the ground and made microscope slides out of cello tape and I persuaded my classmates to do the same. Absolutely useless. They couldn’t be used in any way at all, but I had this collection of little pieces of detritus from the playground which I’d made into slides as a scientist, a genius scientist.

TEXT: What keeps you interested in neuroscience today?

RW: My interest in neuroscience stems from the fact that we all have a brain, we all use a brain constantly. We all have a theory of mind and how our brain is working. We are inherently interested in how our brains work, what they do for us and if you have the privilege of being a scientist as I do, then you’re also interested in the very nuts and bolts of how your brain is developing, how it’s used to see, sense, feel, and think.

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