Professor Marysia Placzek

School of Biosciences

Professor of Developmental Neurobiology
+44 114 222 2353

Full contact details

Professor Marysia Placzek
School of Biosciences
Firth Court
Western Bank
S10 2TN

Marysia is a Wellcome Trust Investigator and Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the School of Biosciences. She has inspired staff and students alike with her pioneering leadership.

A driving force behind one of our University’s key research facilities, Marysia directed the MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics for many years and oversaw its evolution into the Bateson Centre.

Her initiative and outstanding commitment to her colleagues and students contributed to the ongoing success of research in the Department and the strong focus on developmental biology, and its translation, at the University.

Marysia’s research focuses on the development of the vertebrate hypothalamus and she has earned international acclaim for her work in this field. In 2023 she was awarded the British Society for Developmental Biology Waddington Medal, in recognition of her outstanding research performance as well as services to the subject community.

In 2012 she was awarded an MRC Suffrage Science Heirloom in recognition of her achievements as a leading female scientist.

Like many women, she balances the demands of world-leading research with family commitments, and has been celebrated by The Royal Society’s ‘Parent Carer Scientist’ project.

Colleagues agree that “Marysia is not just a role model for female scientists, but for all those with an aspiration to become a leader in their field.”

Research interests
Chick hyp

How the brain develops remains one of the greatest mysteries in science. Research in the lab focus on the development of a fascinating part of the brain - the hypothalamus – the master-controller of physical, behavioural and emotional homeostasis.

Lay summary

In the developing embryos, the hypothalamus is built with precision. This ordered assembly underlies its key role in life. Our research focuses on characterising the stem and progenitor cells that build the hypothalamus and characterising the molecular networks that direct hypothalamic morphogenesis, growth and differentiation. Our work will contribute to understanding the importance of the hypothalamus to robust long-term health and will shed light on diseases and disruptions of homeostasis.

Research summary

The functions of the hypothalamus in mediating homeostasis, and ensuring that brain and body function optimally, are well-known. By contrast, little is understood of how the hypothalamus develops. This knowledge is important, because early indications suggest that deregulation of developmental programmes may underlie complex human pathological conditions, including stress and eating disorders. Our goal is therefore to understand how the hypothalamus develops in the embryo and how the proper embryonic assembly of the hypothalamus holds the key to robust adult function.


We focus in particular on five key areas:

  • The role of adjacent tissues in inducing multipotent embryonic hypothalamic progenitor cells
  • The characterisation of multipotent embryonic hypothalamic progenitor cells, and identification of cues that maintain progenitor cells, or promote their differentiation
  • The self-organisation and morphogenesis of hypothalamic progenitor cells through integrated growth and differentiation
  • The cellular and molecular events that underlie the integrated assembly of the hypothalamo-pituitary neuraxis
  • The characterization of stem/progenitor-like tanycytes in the adult hypothalamus

We use a range of animal model systems (chick, mouse, zebrafish) and combine in vivo and ex vivo approaches with state-of-the-art transcriptomic, imaging, and gain-and loss-of-function approaches.


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Conference proceedings papers


Research group

Current lab members:

  • Dr Sarah Burbridge (Research Assistant)
  • Dr Kavitha Chinnaiya (Research Associate)
  • Dr Elizabeth Manning (Research Associate)
  • Dr Elsie Place (Research Associate)
  • Mr Ian Groves (PhD student; joint with Dr Alex Fletcher)
  • Ms Bethany James (PhD student; joint with Professor Andrew Furley and Dr Ivana Barbaric)
Teaching activities

I lecture and teach on several undergraduate and MSc courses, including second, third year and masters courses in developmental biology, developmental neurobiology and stem/ regenerative biology. I am module co-ordinator for Developmental Neurobiology (second year module).

My group annually takes several undergraduate and masters students into the lab for their final dissertation/research projects and most years we have summer students working with us.

I am an invited editor of ‘Principles of Development Biology’ (7th ed).

Professional activities and memberships
  • Chair: Wellcome Trust Expert Review Group: Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Scientific Advisory Board member: GW4 Biomed MRC DTP


I am invited to present research talks at international meetings in numerous fields, including Developmental biology, Neuroscience, Neuroendocrinology, Endocrinology

Examination bodies

  • External Examiner for Development, Regeneration and Stem Cells, University of Edinburgh (2016-2019)
  • External Examiner for Part 2 Zoology, University of Cambridge (2013-2015)

Professional societies

  • British Society for Developmental Biology
  • Society for Endocrinology
  • Society for Neuroscience
  • Society for Anatomy

Peer review activity

I am an ad hoc reviewer for many journals (including Cell, Nature Neuroscience, Current Biology, Development, Developmental Cell, PLoS Biology) and for Grant awarding bodies (including Wellcome Trust, BBSRC, MRC, ERC, Hong Kong Research Council, Human Science Frontiers Program; NIHR). I have been involved in many promotion reviews for scientists in my field of research in the UK, USA and elsewhere, act as a Content Expert (eg Larsen’s Human Embryology 4th Ed (Ed: G. Schoenwolf)) and editor (Wolpert’s Principlels of Developmental Biology 7th Ed).