Director, National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center
Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center
Neuropathology and Clinical Cores
Tell me about yourself and your role at the Cleveland Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (CADRC).
I am the director for the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center. One of the reasons I got involved with the Neuropathology Core is the infrastructure of the Neuropathology Core mirrors that of the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center, which has been proven, historically, to be very strong. The CDC started funding the prion center in 1997 for nation-wide neuropathologic surveillance of prion disease. We coordinate autopsies from around the country for cases of suspected prion disease, and we work to characterize the disease at the Center. Thus, we have experience coordinating with other institutions for tissue samples, as well as experience characterizing and storing the diseased tissue. My role within the CADRC Neuropathology Core, therefore, has been to help implement a similar infrastructure as the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center.
What do you see as your core’s main activities and goals?
The main activity of our core is the acquisition of tissue samples for analysis and research with the end goal being to give CADRC participants and their families more accurate diagnoses. Additionally, we work to store the samples in such a way that other researchers can request them for their individual projects.
What is the focus of your research currently, and where do you see your work going in the next two-five years?
My research primarily focuses on prion disease. Specifically, the diagnosis, surveillance, and epidemiology of prion disease. One of the tests that we use to diagnose prion disease in patients is called real time quaking induced conversion (RT-QuIC). This test allows us to amplify very small amounts of the abnormal prion proteins in the CSF for detection purposes. Thus, we are able to identify disease specific biomarkers for prion disease. What is interesting is we are discovering that many other neurodegenerative conditions are due to misfolded proteins, just like prion disease. Thus, our Center is working towards developing this RT-QuIC test for other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
How do you see research in brain health/AD/dementia evolving in the next 2-5 years?
I think that you will begin to see a crossover between the research being done for these diseases as similarities are being drawn between the different illnesses. In many ways, it is to researchers’ advantage to cross their silos and learn about these other disease processes. In contrast, I also think one will see a deeper dive into the specific disease processes in an effort to characterize unique features of each individual patient’s case, and move towards more personalized medicine.
Do you have any suggestion or recommendations for students or young researchers who wish to get more involved in brain health research?
Now is a great time to go into the field. Funding for brain health research has grown exponentially in the last five years, and will most likely continue to grow. Additionally, there are many opportunities, and a wide breadth of ways one can get involved. There’s almost an unlimited number of disciplines where this is applicable, and there is a great need for it. Get in contact with someone who is engaging in research that interests you, and see where that experience takes you!