A liquid is dropped into a beaker in a lab.

ALRI Awards Funds to Faculty to Address Neurodegenerative Diseases

The name of the Alabama Life Research Institute in silver on a red wall.There are no cures for many neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Research designed to elucidate target mechanisms as well as drug discovery research are important and are areas The University of Alabama is seeing grow.

The President’s Support Fund for Faculty Development, Innovation and Research, supported by the Merrymac-McKinley Foundation, is managed by the Alabama Life Research Institute. ALRI’s mission is to lead interdisciplinary bio-psychosocial research that seeks to investigate the human condition at all levels, from the molecular to the environmental.

All ALRI research efforts – from the study of genetic anomalies to governmental policy, from drug discovery to prosthetic design, from education to behavior change – seek to improve life, through the reduction of morbidity and mortality. ALRI has already identified research efforts aiming to address specific unmet needs, namely, rural health and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

In support of the goals of the President’s Support Fund, ALRI directed awards to promising junior faculty doing research in the area of neurodegenerative diseases, with the objective to both accelerate possible discoveries and to position the faculty to be highly competitive for future grant support from the National Institutes of Health.

Promising faculty members Dr. Lukasz Cielsa, assistant professor of biological sciences, along with his collaborator Dr. Yuping Bao, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Dr. Stanislava Chtarbanova-Rudloff, assistant professor of biological sciences, will use funds awarded to support basic science research in the area of neurodegeneration.

“The University has invested in the hiring of young, creative faculty doing extremely cutting-edge research,” said Dr. Sharlene Newman, ALRI executive director. “The President’s Support Fund was used to support junior faculty because it is essential that these faculty are provided adequate resources to conduct their research during the critical period when they are laying the groundwork that will allow them to make important discoveries and secure large grants that will fully fund their work.”

Ciesla and Bao received $25,000 from the Merrymac-McKinley Foundation to support their research exploring neuroprotective therapy to activate and restore neural function for Alzheimer’s disease by using plant extracts and synthetic nanoparticles. Ciesla searches for compounds found in plants likely to have neuroprotective qualities while Bao tests the efficacy of these drugs using nanotechnology screening.

“The goal of our research is to identify binding compounds; one would be plant extracts or peptide mixtures that can bind to this cell receptor. Then these cell receptors can treat certain biological pathways with a neuroprotective and then eventually lead to the treatment of a neurodegenerative disease,” Bao said.

“The Merrymac-Mckinley Foundation funding will allow us to generate data that will show the broader applicability of our technique, its usefulness, and allow us to validate the entire process,” Ciesla said.

In addition, the Merrymac-McKinley Foundation also awarded Chtarbanova-Rudloff $25,000 for her research on the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. She hypothesizes plaques and tangles in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer’s is the result of an out of control immune response by antimicrobial peptides.

“The funding from the Merrymac-McKinley Foundation will allow us to perform some preliminary experiments in order to investigate how the elevated levels of the antimicrobial peptide, specifically in the brain, lead to neurodegeneration,” Chtarbanova-Rudloff said.