Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions

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 Adam Smith

Adam Smith

PhD student

 +44 (0) 1392 408223

 RILD Building 


University of Exeter Medical School, RILD Building, RD&E Hospital Wonford, Barrack Road, Exeter, EX2 5DW, UK


Adam joined the University of Exeter in 2010 to do his degree in Medical Science. During his degree he had a considerable interest in the structure and function of the brain more especially in neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.  As part of Adam's degree he worked for a year as an associate genetic technologist in the Molecular Genetics Department of the RD&E Wonford hospital. It was here Adam decided that a molecular approach to understanding neurological diseases was how he wanted to continue his learning and research.

Adam's degree finished in July 2014 and he is now working on his PhD with Dr Katie Lunnon and Professor Jonathan Mill in the Complex Disease Epigenetics group. He is exploring the implications of epigenetic changes in a gene called ANK1 in Alzheimer’s disease. The group routinely explore the levels of chemical tags, so-called epigenetic modifications which act to regulate the expression of genes, in a range of diseases. Recently the group has reported evidence for significant epigenetic changes in a gene called ANK1 in Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in regions of the brain that are affected early in the disease. Interestingly, no difference was seen in this gene in areas of the brain largely unaffected by Alzheimer’s disease, or in blood samples collected from the same patients during life. Adam's PhD studentship, funded by the charity BRACE, is exploring the implications of epigenetic changes in the ANK1 gene, and how this could lead to disease. Adam's project aims to refine the exact extent and location of the epigenetic changes in the ANK1 gene in Alzheimer’s disease, relating this information to both levels of gene expression and characteristic measures of disease stage from autopsy examination. Adam is also investigating other epigenetic modifications that could affect the expression of this gene.  One of the most exciting aspects of identifying disease-associated epigenetic changes is that they are potentially reversible and so could represent new drug targets for disease. Adam also plans to use new exciting epigenetic editing techniques to try to reverse the epigenetic changes in cell model experiments.

Broad research specialisms

•    The role of epigenetics (DNA methylation) in dementia
•    DNA and RNA extraction from tissues and blood (human)        
•    PCR
•    Sanger Sequencing
•    Bisulfite treatment
•    Microarrays for methylation (Illumina 450k)
•    Quantitative qRT-PCR
•    Primer Design
•    Mutation/pathogenicity analysis – insilico analysis


Research interests

Adam is mainly interested in research that shapes the development of clinical medicine and patient care, with a particular focus on genetics, epigenetics and how these impact neurological diseases. Despite the recent boost in Dementia research funding we are still a long way off from fully understanding complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Adam believes an epigenetic approach to unravelling the complications of these diseases are the best next step to working out the pathology, therefore leading to better treatments and care for dementia sufferers.

Research projects

•    MRC Schizophrenia Project
•    Characterization of ANK1 in other Dementias 
•    ANK1 SureSelect Custom Capture


•    BRACE – PhD studentship awarded September 2014


Supervision / Group

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