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Featured Profile: Dr. Katie Bentley

Updated: Feb 5

Introduction

Katie is a mathematician, computer scientist, computational biologist, and experimentalist. Her impressive research work in computational simulation, modelling and imaging have led to the development of a better understanding of vessel formation in eye diseases as well as contributing to Covid-19 modelling of spread in hospitals and how policies affect that spread [1,2,3].


Katie is currently a group leader of the Cellular Adaptive Behaviour lab at the Francis Crick Institute, where she leads an interdisciplinary group of computational modellers integrated with a small experimental lab that does imaging work [1, 2, 3]. She is also a lecturer in the Informatics department at King’s College London [2, 3].


Katie’s work has resulted in exciting progress using computational simulations and new imaging techniques to understand the 3-dimensional development of blood vessels and neurons in the eye [2, 3, A]. Her work in this area was recently featured in an article highlighting the five biggest research stories of 2020 at the Crick [3].


Recently, Katie’s group has also worked with a team at NHSx, the Big Data Institute (BMI) at Oxford University, and IBM to computationally model the spread of Covid-19 in hospitals, exploring which policies work best to halt the spread [1]. Her team is now working with Samra Ruajlic’s group at the Crick to integrate their technology into the CAPTURE study, a longitudinal study of the effects of Covid-19 on cancer [1].


Educational and Research Background

Katie is a computer scientist and mathematician by training, having done her undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Sussex in 2001 [4]. Her fascination with biology began during her Master’s of Science (MSc.) degree in Evolutionary and Adaptive systems [4, 5].


Katie went on to do her PhD in Computer Science at UCL, where her research work focused on investigating how environments affect the morphological plasticity, the ability to change physical characteristics, in biological and robotic systems [2, 4, 6].


Katie’s fascination with biological systems was solidified during her first postdoctoral placement in Paul Bates’ Biomolecular Modelling Laboratory at the CRUK London Research Institute (LRI), where she did computational modelling of vascular biology, the biology of vessel formation [4, 5, 6]. She then moved into Holger Gerhardt’s Vascular Biology Laboratory at the LRI to learn experimental biology techniques that would allow her to experimentally validate her computational predictions [4, 5].


After her second postdoc, Katie was appointed as an Assistant Professor of Pathology Harvard Medical School, while based at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center, in 2013 [2]. There, she was the group leader of the Integrated Computational Biology Laboratory which used computational modelling, in vitro and In vivo experiments aswell as image analysis to uncover mechanisms of blood vessel growth in mouse retinas under normal and abnormal conditions [2, 4, 5]. She also set up satellite modelling labs at Boston University and Uppsala University, Sweden [5]. It was during this time that she began to see the need to develop improved vessel imaging techniques as she was getting frustrated with the standard imaging technique at the time, confocal microscopy [3]. The problem with the method was that they had to slice mouse retinas and mount them on flat slides, which would distort the naturally curved retinas [3]. Katie became interested in possible alternate methods to perform this imaging and began exploring the use of light-sheet fluorescent microscopy (LSFM) for vessel imaging [3].


Current Research Work


Since 2018, Katie has been a group leader of the Cellular Adaptive Behaviour lab at the Francis Crick Institute. Her group uses computational simulations and experimental work to understand how cells develop to co-ordinate or compete to and develop tissue structures [1, 7]. The group also works on producing improved 3-dimensional images of blood vessels and neurons in the eye to understand vascular malformations in eye diseases and to develop treatments for those diseases [1, 2, 3, 7, 8].


Due to Katie’s frustration with traditional imaging techniques, Katie’s lab managed to successfully use LFSM for vessel imaging in mouse eyes [3]. The method gave them the opportunity to view vessels in the eye with 3D detail and study them from several angles and also allowed for the imaging of blood vessels and neurons at the same time [3]. The method achieved stunning results and gave completely new insights into “tufts” , abnormalblood vessels that occur in eye diseases, demonstrating how they have different shapes than previously known or described [2, 3]. The work was a culmination of seven years work involving multidisciplinary collaborative work from her lab and satellite groups in Boston and Uppsala, as well as collaborators at the Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon [3]. This method provides the chance to study how abnormal vessels form and could ultimately lead to a far richer understanding of vascular formation in eye diseases, which could lead to “a wealth of new treatments” to treat retinal detachment and blindness [3].



Movie of 3D-rendered surface of a looped blood vessel tuft (Bentley Lab)


Katie’s work in interdisciplinary fields and leading multidisciplinary teams has led to some truly impressive world-class science that is contributing to our fundamental

understanding of vascular biology. Her revolutionary application of computational simulation and imaging techniques for biological research are paving the way to a more fundamental understanding of eye diseases. And more recently, her group’s work in performing computational simulations of the spread of Covid-19 in hospitals has given timely and important potential for more in depth studies using theNHSx Covid model.


Apart from her research, Katie has always enjoyed art and in fact almost applied to art school instead of doing maths [3]. She paints during her spare time, occasionally doing paintings for friends and family and loves creating art projects with her five year old during lockdown!


Publications:

A full list of Katie's publications can be found here


Some publications that may be of interest to readers are highlighted below:

  1. Prahst, C., Ashrafzadeh, P., Mead, T., Figueiredo, A., Chang, K., et al. Mouse retinal cell behaviour in space and time using light sheet fluorescence microscopy. eLife (2020). Available at: https://elifesciences.org/articles/49779.

  2. Bentley, K. and Chakravartula, S. The temporal basis of angiogenesis. The Royal Society: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. (2017). Available at: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2015.0522.

  3. Bentley, K., Philippides, A., Regan, E.R. Do endothelial cells dream of eclectic shape? Developmental cell: 29 (2014). Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1534580714001932.

  4. Bentley, K., Franco, C. A., Philippides, A., Blanco, R., Dierkes, M., et al. The role of differential VE-cadherin dynamics in cell rearrangement during angiogenesis. Nat Cell Biol 16, 309-321 (2014). Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncb2926.

  5. Costa, G., Harrington, K., Lovegrove, H. et al. Asymmetric division coordinates collective cell migration in angiogenesis. Nat Cell Biol 18, 1292–1301 (2016). Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncb3443.


Resources:

1. Francis Crick Institute. 2021. Spotlight on Katie Bentley, modelling the spread of coronavirus. [online] Available at: https://www.crick.ac.uk/news/2020-09-22_spotlight-on-katie-bentley-modelling-the-spread-of-coronavirus.

2. LinkedIn. 2021. Katie Bentley. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-bentley-86681814/?originalSubdomain=uk.

3. Francis Crick Institute. 2021. Visualising neurons and blood vessels in the eye with special 3D imaging techniques. [online] Available at: https://www.crick.ac.uk/news/2020-02-21_visualising-neurons-and-blood-vessels-in-the-eye-with-special-3d-imaging-techniques.

4. Francis Crick Institute. 2021. Katie Bentley. [online] Available at: https://www.crick.ac.uk/research/find-a-researcher/katie-bentley.

5. Francis Crick Institute. 2021. Introducing… Katie Bentley. [online] Available at: https://www.crick.ac.uk/news/2019-01-10_introducing-katie-bentley

6. Harvard.edu. 2021. Center for Vascular Biology Research: Katie Bentley, Ph.D.. [online] Available at: http://dev.cvbr.hms.harvard.edu/researchers/bentley.html.

7. Francis Crick Institute. 2021. Katie Bentley. [online] Available at: https://www.crick.ac.uk/research/labs/katie-bentley

8. Kings College University. 2021. Dr Katie Bentley. [online] Available at: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/people/katie-bentley




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