Lynda Wilmott, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a $52,500 grant to explore proteins in the brain that play a key role in controlling the communication of nerve cells that are important for encoding and storing memories. The grant from the Glenn/AFAR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Translational Research on Aging will allow Dr. Wilmott to explore how changes in these proteins affect aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Wilmott currently works in the laboratory of Catherine Kaczorowski, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology in the College of Medicine at UTHSC. Her research will clarify what role Kcnh3, a protein coding gene, plays in memory function, neuro responsiveness and communication between areas of the brain that are involved in memory. At the onset of memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease, this protein has been shown to be enriched in the hippocampus, which is the structure in the brain that aids in encoding memories. The expectation of the study is that administering an antagonist drug will improve memory function, including neuron responsiveness and communication between brain areas.
“This project seeks to determine the role of Kcnh3 in memory formation and decline, and also test the efficacy of Kcnh3 modulators to prevent or reverse memory failure in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Wilmott. “This work will be an important step toward developing a therapeutic drug to maintain cognitive function in elderly humans. Not only would drugs that curb the onset of memory impairments reduce the financial costs associated with caring for dementia patients, but they would also improve the quality of life in elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia were expected to cost the United States $226 billion in 2015. It is estimated that by 2050, the cost could balloon to $1.1 trillion, since currently this disease has no preventive treatments, cannot be slowed and has no cure. Caregivers had $9.7 billion in their own health care costs in 2014 due to the emotional and physical stress in treating Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
“I am incredibly fortunate and grateful to receive this Glenn/AFAR award because it will give me the opportunity to further explore how Kcnh3 affects learning and memory in both normal aging and AD, research that is greatly lacking and could potentially produce impactful results,” said Dr. Wilmott.
The Glenn/AFAR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Translational Research on Aging serves to address adequate funding for postdoctoral fellows who focus their research and findings to directly impact human aging. A total of up to 10 one-year grants will be awarded. The awards range from $49,000 to $60,000.