Research, Discovery & Innovation


Tracy Young-Pearse, PhD

Department of Neurology President's Scholar, 2019


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by dysfunction and deterioration of neurons resulting in loss of memory and progressive cognitive decline. Current treatments are aimed only at symptom management. Two barriers to effective therapeutic development include: 1) a lack of understanding of the root causes of AD in different individuals and 2) a need to identify molecular pathways involved in cognitive decline and AD that can be targeted for therapeutic intervention. We are using induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology coupled to comprehensive studies of patient populations to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying AD in an effort to break down these barriers.

We have made induced pluripotent stem cell lines from blood samples from 50 different people – some of whom had dramatic cognitive decline with age and developed AD and others who lived to be beyond the age of 90 with perfect cognition and no AD pathology in their brain. These stem cell lines are defined by two important qualities: 1) they are “immortalized,” meaning that they divide and self-renew giving us an unlimited supply of these cells and 2) they are “pluripotent,” meaning that they have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. We are now turning these stem cells into “mini-brains” in a dish, where we are investigating how the genetics of these different individuals contributed to their risk for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. The ultimate, long term (5-year) goal is to use this system to develop algorithms that will both predict Alzheimer’s disease and determine the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s in different individuals. The development of such algorithms would be groundbreaking, and transform the manner in which we conceptualize therapeutic development for neurological disease.

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