Julia TCW, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology & bioinformatics, has received a five-year, $3.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Aging. The award will fund her research project, “Microglia targeted interventions in prodromal Alzheimer’s disease stage.”
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder and the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 5.8 million individuals in the U.S. Scientists have discovered some genetic variants that increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s; the most well-known of these, for people over the age of 65, is apolipoprotein E ε4 (APOE4).
Genome-wide association studies for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD) have found that vast majority of risk-increasing mutations are localized to regulatory elements of the genes that are enriched in the microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain. The most significant risk variant for LOAD is APOE4, which is predominantly expressed in astrocytes and also significantly upregulated in microglia near amyloid plaques and by neurodegenerative environments.
According to TCW, while microglia protect against development of AD by clearing toxic cellular debris and compacting amyloid plaques, environmental and genetic factors can cause microglia to enter persistent reactive states in which they escalate disease via excessive inflammation and neurotoxicity. “Given the role of microglia in AD pathogenesis, microglia-targeted pharmacological and cell therapeutic interventions may be able to protect against AD progression in selectively vulnerable brain regions such as the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus,” she explained.
TCW received her PhD and master of arts in molecular and cellular biology from Harvard University. She then pursued her postdoctoral research in the department of neuroscience at the Ronald M. Loeb Center for Alzheimer’s Disease at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. Subsequently she served there as research faculty in the department of genetics and genomic sciences and neuroscience where her research focus was on the development of iPSC models and AD genetics.
In addition to this grant, TCW has been awarded the Druckenmiller Fellowship award from New York Stem Cell Foundation, a K award from the National Institutes of Health-National Institute of Aging, a BrightFocus Foundation grant, and was named a 2022 Toffler Scholar by the Karen Toffler Charitable Trust.