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Ryann Fame, PhD, joins Stanford Medicine Department of Neurosurgery

September 22, 2022

We are pleased to welcome Ryann Fame, PhD, to our department. Dr. Fame's appointment as Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery begins November 1, 2022. 

Dr. Fame completed her undergraduate degree in Biology and Chemistry at the College of William and Mary. Afterward, she completed a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. She conducted postdoctoral fellowships at The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT and at Boston Children’s Hospital Pathology Department. Her research program encompasses the early neural stem cell niche, neural tube closure, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), metabolism, and cortical neuronal development. As a stem cell and developmental molecular biologist, Dr. Fame is dedicated to broad collaboration focused on translating an understanding of neural development and CSF biology into regenerative strategies for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disease. 

In this Q&A, we sat down with Dr. Fame to discuss her introduction to neuroscience, her research passions, and her extracurricular interests:

Welcome to Stanford Medicine! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself? Was there something in particular that attracted you to the field neuroscience and your area(s) of study?

Hi, thanks for the warm welcome!  It’s been a joy becoming a member of the department! I very clearly remember learning how the body is built during fetal development and I was amazed at how often everything goes right.  In the case of the brain, so many processes happen perfectly to build this complex organ that really underlies our individuality and humanity. For the most part, the neurons that we have when we are born are the ones we will have forever, so I became very motivated to study processes that are required for brain development and ask whether those same events could be harnessed to repair or support the brain if there is a problem. I began by studying the neural progenitor cells themselves, but realized that their environment, the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) had largely been overlooked during brain development.  The CSF is also relatively easier to access than brain itself, so I set out to understand the origin, components, and roles of CSF to support a healthy brain—especially during development.

Your work involves the complex signaling environment between the brain and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Can you tell us a little more about your research?

Absolutely!  The brain and spinal cord are filled with and surrounded by a clear fluid called the CSF. CSF bathes the whole brain, so changes in the CSF can tell us about changes in the brain.  Excitingly, the CSF also contains molecular signals that support neural stem cells.  That means that altering the CSF can also change the brain and how it behaves. I study CSF very early in brain development when the role of CSF includes supporting the stem cells that make the brain, but before the more widely known mechanisms of CSF production are fully on-line. We are learning more about how CSF is produced, what CSF components tell us about brain development, and which CSF signals (including ions and small molecules) keep the growing brain healthy. We also love developing new technologies to watch the developing brain and monitor the CSF and its contents.

What are the clinical implications for your area of research? What diseases or conditions might your research help find new treatments for?

I am a basic researcher, so I study the fundamental mechanisms that control the developing brain and its environment.  I have been fortunate to make connections with a number of conditions in the purview of pediatric neurosurgery and am so excited to work with my new colleagues at Stanford Neurosurgery. For example: to understand the early brain fluid environment, I study the process of neural tube closure, which is disrupted in neural tube closure defects like spina bifida (a spinal cord defect) and anencephaly (a brain defect). My work on CSF production has implications for understanding conditions with dysregulated CSF volume or pressure like hydrocephalus. I also use an animal model to better understand a pediatric tumor of the tissue that makes CSF —the choroid plexus— called choroid plexus carcinoma.  The CSF is part of the niche that supports neural stem cells and can play a role in neurodevelopmental processes. Since the CSF is the environment of the brain, my work touches on many different processes in brain health and disease.

What kind of activities do you pursue outside of work?

I enjoy swimming and biking. I particularly love open water swimming, so maybe I was always destined to study an unexplored fluid! When I’m feeling artistic, I play the clarinet or crochet.

Name one fun fact about you.

I can respond to a sneeze in over 12 languages. But I hope everyone stays healthy, so there’s no need to do so!

Learn more about the Fame Lab: https://famelab.stanford.edu/

Follow the Fame Lab on Twitter: @LabFame