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Dr Thomas Butts

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Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Year 3 academic lead

I am a developmental neurobiologist interested in how the brain develops and how this development has evolved over the last 500 or so million years. I teach embryology, neuroanatomy, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology across the medical curriculum.

After reading Cell Biology at Durham, my PhD explored the evolution of the homeobox genes in animals, which are crucial in building animal embryoes, under the supervision of Dr David Ferrier (now in St Andrews) and Prof Peter Holland at Oxford, where I was also a college lecturer at St Catherine's College. From there, I moved to work as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof Richard Wingate, Prof Andrew Lumsden, and Prof Anthony Graham at King's College London on the development and evolution of the hindbrain. It was at KCL that I began using experimental chick embryology to address questions of brain development, something I have been engaged in ever since.

My first teaching post was as a lecturer in neurobiology on the Nanchang Joint Programme at QMUL, and before moving to Sunderland I was the programme director for the BSc Anatomy degree at the University of Liverpool.

Teaching and supervision

I am a Lecturer in neuroscience in the School of Medicine, year 3 academic lead, and the School's equality, diversity, and inclusion lead. I lead the second-year unit 14: Integrated Sensorimotor Systems, and I teach embryology, neuroanatomy, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology across the medical curriculum.

Research interests for potential research students

  • Molecular development of the cerebellum
  • Developmental evolution of the cerebellum
  • Medulloblastoma cancer biology


I am interested in the molecular control of neurogenesis and its evolution across the vertebrate phylogeny. In particular, I work on the cerebellum, which contains ~80% of the neurons in the brain, and exhibits a huge variety of morphological forms across vertebrates. As such, it's a great model system for asking how complex, foliated brains evolved. Unsurprisingly given the huge numbers of neurons produced during development, cerebellar progenitors also give rise to the most common paediatric brain tumour, medulloblastoma.

My research aims to understand the molecular control of progenitor biology in the cerebellum, and through this to illustrate both how cerebellar development has evolved, and also how it can go awry during tumourigenesis, principally using a combination of comparative genomics and genetic manipulations in the chick embryo.

  • Brain development
  • Brain evolution
  • Neuroscience
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Developmental biology

Last updated 30 September 2022