To support her research into how cells in the brain affect aging, Dr. Awarded two fellowships totaling $375,000.
The new funding will come from the Bright Focus Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Alzheimer’s Disease Research, which will support young researchers in the final stages of mentoring and training, as well as researchers doing work related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. from the Alzheimer’s Association Research Fellowship for.
The Schafer lab studies how microglia regulate neural circuits in healthy and diseased nervous systems. The lab has shown that these cells can “eat” synaptic connections between neurons to sculpt developing neural circuits, and can “overeat” and dismantle circuits in the early stages of neurodevelopmental disease. With a focus on multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease, the lab is working to understand how these cells cause and expand inflammation in brain circuits.
“Microglia are brain-resident immune cells. They exist to protect us from a variety of inflammatory insults, such as pathogens and injury, but they also play a role in propagating inflammatory processes in various diseases and aging. We will do it,” explained Dr. Durand Laforet.
Cellular senescence is a process that frequently occurs in aging when cells stop dividing and start producing inflammatory mediators. His BrightFocus award winner Durán Laforet uses a spatial transcriptome technique called MERFISH to map senescent cells in the brain for the first time. These cells eventually stop growing, but they don’t die when they should, they continue to release factors that can cause inflammation.
“Removal of senescent cells from the brains of mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease has been shown to ameliorate pathology. In addition, senescent cells have been detected in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. They have brain damage and are involved in this condition,” said Durand-Laforet.
Using technology funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Center for Life Sciences, 2020 recipients Dr. Schaefer and Dr. Christina Baer, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems, Durand Laforet obtaining tissue slices so that it can be retrieved without losing coordinates. Study all single cells and gene expression in those cells.
“We think this could be a starting point for more research, as it has never been done before. We may be able to develop pharmacological strategies that could target future treatments for Alzheimer’s disease or any disease with an aging component,” said Durand-Laforet.
The Alzheimer’s Society Award will fund Durand-Laforet’s investigation into a subset of microglia known to reside in the vascular niche. This type of microglia is involved in pathogenic changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease within blood vessels. Durán Laforet again uses his MERFISH to investigate the peculiarities of vascular-associated microglia and how they change with aging and neurodegeneration.
Durand-Laforet said she has had a long-standing interest in neurodegenerative diseases and anything to do with the brain. and combined a new fascination with the brain with an interest in the immune system. She earned her doctorate in biomedical research from the same school. In the final year of her doctoral program, she came to Massachusetts to study with Dr. Eng Lo, professor of neurology and radiology at her School of Medicine at Harvard. In her early 2021 she will arrive at UMass Chan and work in Schafer’s lab.
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