Smashing Stereotypes, Dr Claire Durrant: If we all think the same, we risk losing sight of a path to the answer

Posted on the 10th March 2021

Dr Claire Durrant has a degree in Natural Sciences (specialising in Neuroscience) and a PhD in Alzheimer’s disease from the University of Cambridge. In 2019 she moved to Edinburgh to become a “Race Against Dementia fellow” where she is exploring why connections between brain cells are damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. Race Against Dementia is a charity established by F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart, in order to inject F1 attitude and accelerate progress in dementia research.


I have always been fascinated by the natural world and how it works. This started as a love of animals from as young as I can remember, developing into a deep interest in wildlife, biology and David Attenborough(!) throughout my school years. Evolution and the enormous complexity and diversity of life on earth continues to amaze me. I was lucky to have fantastic science teachers in my comprehensive school who nurtured this curiosity and introduced me to a love of science. I was fortunate to gain a place at Cambridge and felt welcomed, supported and empowered from the outset- far from the stuffy, elitist environment I had been fearing.

As I went through my studies, I became more and more interested in physiology-how we and other animals work! My studies in neuroscience led me to the conclusions that nothing could be more complex and fascinating than the brain. I vividly remember learning about regions of the brain that, if damaged, completely prevent you from perceiving motion- life becomes a strobe-like series of still images. Other brain regions hold your most treasured memories, your ability to distinguish tastes, your ability to control movements or even recognise your own mother’s face. The fact that everything that makes us unique as humans and individuals is trapped in a gloopy organ inside your skull is mind blowing to me.

My interest in the brain naturally led me to want to understand how to protect it, protect who we are, from disease. The cruelty of dementia, how it can rob a person of their memories and even the essence of themselves, is boundless.  I really wanted contribute in some small way to making a world free from the fear and heartbreak of dementia. It’s a goal that keeps me motivated at work day to day!

My day job in the lab is incredibly varied and I am so lucky to be part of a global, diverse team of dedicated scientists trying to defeat dementia. Our first cohort of Race Against Dementia fellows was an all female team, and our network of researchers is growing each year! In science, we are trained to look at problems from different angles and seek out the truth regardless of our favoured hypothesis. Diverse teams made of people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and different strengths are essential for science to progress. If we all think the same, we risk losing sight of a path to the answer. I strongly believe there is a place in science for everyone and everyone has something unique to offer the scientific community.

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