Axel Montagne, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator (

Axel joined the UK DRI at Edinburgh in December 2020. He completed his PhD degree at the University of Caen Normandy (France) in 2012, followed by a postdoctoral training at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles from 2013 to 2016. Axel rapidly became Assistant then Associate Professor at USC in 2016 and 2020, respectively. His carrier has been focusing on how cerebrovascular dysfunctions contribute to neurodegeneration and dementia in both animal models and humans. In this UK DRI project, he combines molecular approaches with rodent non-invasive imaging, particularly MRI, PET and two-photon microscopy, to study the causes and effects of blood-brain barrier (BBB) dysfunction, with a particular focus on the pericyte-endothelial crosstalk, in the context of neurodegenerative diseases. In his spare time, Axel enjoys spending time with his family, playing with his son, playing guitar, hiking, and all sorts of sports activities including football, basketball, and tennis.

Conor McQuaid, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Researcher & Lab Manager (

Conor joined the Montagne lab in January 2022. He completed his undergraduate in Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, his Master of Research at the University of Liverpool, and his PhD in Neuroscience and Nanotechnology at the Open University with Midatech Pharma®. His career has focused on the cerebrovascular system and specifically the role of the blood-brain barrier and its part in hindering drug delivery and its contribution to neurodegenerative disease. He has worked with culture models, including primary, immortalized, & iPSC-based systems. As a Postdoctoral Research associate at the University of Rochester, he has worked on the glymphatic system and its role in disease, and SARS-CoV-2 and its interaction with the cells of the neurovasculature unit, in both in vitro and in vivo models. In the Montagne lab, Conor is investigating the crosstalk between pericytes and endothelial cells, and the link between the immune system and BBB dysfunction in both health and disease. Conor enjoys spending time with his fiancée and family, hiking and going on adventures, and playing with any and all dogs.

Audrey Chagnot, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Researcher (

Audrey joined the Montagne lab in February 2022. She completed her PhD in the Pathophysiology and Imaging of Neurological Disorders team (INSERM U1237) at the University of Caen Normandy, France. She developped Magnetic Resonance Imaging protocols to study the glymphatic system in mice. In the Montagne lab, Audrey is studying how an impaired endothelial-pericyte crosstalk can trigger Brain Interstitial Fluid Accumulation Syndrome (BIFAS) using cutting-edge brain imaging technology. In her free time, Audrey enjoys reading encyclopaedias, crafting amulets, and writing short novels.

Michael Sewell, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Researcher (

Michael joined the Montagne lab in December 2023 as a postdoctoral research fellow after completing his PhD as part of the Wellcome Trust Translational Neuroscience programme in the McColl lab at the University of Edinburgh. During his PhD, he gained extensive experience of using omics approaches to study the roles of microglia in neurodevelopmental disorders. In the Montagne lab, he is interested in using omics approaches to investigate interactions between microglia and cells of the neurovascular unit during blood-brain barrier breakdown. In his free time, Michael enjoys doing and watching anything sports-related, especially formula 1, football, running marathons, and tennis, as well as travelling (having done two round-the-world trips). 

Daniela Jaime Garcia
Wellcome Trust Translational Neuroscience PhD Student (

Dany joined the Montagne lab in 2021 as a Wellcome Trust Translational Neuroscience PhD student. She is investigating the role of pericytes and endothelial cells in the blood-brain-barrier breakdown observed in small vessel disease and vascular dementia. She completed her undergraduate in psychology and neuroscience at Grinnell College, USA, and subsequently pursued a Masters in Stroke Medicine at the Institute of Neurology, University College London. She has since been a research assistant in clinical studies of small vessel disease with Prof. Joanna Wardlaw at the University of Edinburgh and continues to collaborate with the Wardlaw group for her PhD. In her spare time, Dany loves playing tennis, taking long walks with her dog, cycling, and cooking.

Dorota Stefancova
PhD Student (

Dorota joined the Montagne lab in January 2022 to complete her Neuroscience studies at the University of Edinburgh. She then stayed as a Research Assistant for a few months. She is going to start her PhD in October 2022 and will be investigating the role of different brain pericyte subtypes in health and disease. She also previously worked with pericytes and mesenchymal stromal cells in mice and humans. In her free time, Dorota enjoys hikes, baking, and reading.

Krystal Laing
Wellcome Trust Translational Neuroscience PhD Student (

Krystal joined the Montagne Lab in September 2022 as a Wellcome Trust Translational Neuroscience PhD student. She is interested in underlying mechanisms of vascular contributions to dementia and investigating the role of Apolipoprotein E Ɛ4 variant in blood-brain barrier (dys)function. She completed her undergraduate in Neuroscience at Trinity College, Hartford, and her Masters in Neuroscience at the University of Hartford, USA. She has been a research assistant in neuroimaging studies of small vessel cerebrovascular disease in dementia with Prof. Adam Brickman at Columbia University, USA. In her spare time, Krystal enjoys writing in coffee shops, playing with her dog, visiting museums, theatres, and the cinema.

Dániel Réti
PhD Student (

Daniel joined the Montagne lab in October 2022. He completed his undergraduate degree in Physics at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary. He earned his master degree in medical physics at University of Galway, Ireland in 2021. His focus was on medical imaging, during his studies. He contributed to projects of this field, like fMRI and phase contrast CT research. After his studies he started working for Mediso, which company installed two new preclinical imaging devices in Edinburgh in 2022. During his PhD research, he is finding way to optimise PET, MRI and CT quality control protocols, focusing on cardiac and brain imaging. His other PhD co-supervisors are Drs. Adriana Tavares and Maurits Jansen. In his free time he enjoys analogue photography, improve acting, and different kinds of sports.

Nela Fialova
Research Assistant (

Nela joined the Montagne lab in January 2023 as a Research Assistant. She helps with smooth running of the lab, optimizing protocols, analyzing collected data and assisting with the MRI studies. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience with Psychology at the University of Aberdeen, followed by a Master by Research degree in Integrative Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. She continued her Master’s thesis project as a Research Assistant in the Horsburgh lab investigating the disruption of the neuro-glial-vascular unit in cerebral small vessel disease, particularly focusing on the role of pericytes in haemodynamic regulation. In her free time, Nela likes to dance, bake, read, hike, and play games.

Louis the duck 🐥
Anxiety Mascot Plush (

Louis the duck, quacked his way to our Montagne lab family in March 2024. His primary role within the lab is to spread happiness and alleviate stress, during those challenging moments when experiments don’t quite go as planned. He adores being snuggled and bringing calmness to even the most frazzled scientists.


Rebecca Billie
MSc Student (

Rebecca joined the Montagne lab in January 2024 as part of her second rotation, Master of Science in Research for Cardiovascular Sciences. In her academic journey she has completed her undergraduates degree from Northern Arizona University (USA), in Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Sciences with two associate degrees in German and Chemistry. Some of her coursework was completed at Tübingen Universität (Germany) as she also served as a global ambassador for the Deutsche-Amerikan Institute (D.A.I.). Previously, she was studying at the University of Edinburgh’s Old Medical school for Masters of Science in Human Anatomy where she transferred to the Queen Medical Research Institute (QMRI) to further specialise in Cardiology. For this MSc rotation, she will be working within Dr. Montagne lab in collaboration with Dr. Mairi Brittan to identify novel targets with a dual regulatory role in small vessel disease in the heart and brain. In her free time, Rebecca advocates and collaborates with the United States and her indigenous, Navajo Nation, governments to help recognise and document her tribal ethnicity, “Alaskan Native/Native American”, within the UK higher educational registry. As she is, by records, the first Native American and woman to be accepted at the UoE since its founding in 1583. She hopes to pursue a career in Cardiothoracic surgery and gain a comprehensive knowledge of medical research in cardiovascular pathology to bring back to her tribal reservations where specialised medical expertise are not accessible.

Emma Clare
MSc Student (

Emma joined the Montagne lab in October 2023 as part of her 4-year British Heart Foundation PhD program. She is a graduate of Sport and Exercise Science from Manchester Metropolitan University who then pursued a Master in Cardiovascular Science at the Georg-Agust Universität, Göttingen. For her first rotation of her MSc year, she will be working at the Montagne lab in collaboration with Dr. Mairi Brittan to validate the expression of specific genes at the proteomic level that have been identified using single-cell RNA sequencing. These genes may play an important role in the pathophysiology of the heart-brain axis and are potential targets implicated in multi-systemic small vessel disease.

Caoimhe Lawless O’Beirne
BSc Student (C.Lawless-O’

Caoimhe is in her final year of study for a BSc in Medical Sciences. She has a special interest in Neuroscience and will be joining the lab for 12 weeks from January 2023 to undertake her Senior Honours Project. In her free time, Caoimhe enjoys playing hockey, going on runs, and reading.

María Paula Huertas
MSc Student (

María Paula joined the Montagne lab in October 2022 as an MSc Student as part of her PhD. She is a graduate of Molecular Biology from the University of Dundee, from where she then went on to complete a Master’s in Genetics at the Université de Paris Cité. Her interest in clinical and translational research has led her to pursue the 4-Year British Heart foundation PhD programme at the University of Edinburgh. For her first rotation of her MSc year, she will be working at the Montagne lab in collaboration with Dr Mairi Brittan to identify similarities and differences in the endothelial transcriptome in patients with small vessel disease (SVD) in the heart and the brain.

Louis Fizelier
Medical Student (

Louis spent 2 months in the Montagne lab in July-August 2022. Louis is currently in his 5th year of medical school at the University of Caen Normandy. He has already received hands on training in the departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU) of Caen. Louis wanted to gain experience in a Neuroscience wet lab and is currently following a Master Neuroscience programme focused on brain diseases, particularly vascular pathologies. In his free time, Louis plays basketball, enjoys sailing, and loves going to the movies.