USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute

Welcome to the USF Health
Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute

The USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute is dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

The institute is a multi-disciplinary center of excellence at the University of South Florida that provides compassionate family-centered patient care, performs cutting edge research and delivers quality public and professional education. With a state-of-the-art building and a highly qualified team of researchers, doctors, clinicians and educators, the institute is at the forefront of Alzheimer's research and care.


Dr Amanda Smith, Director of Clinical Research at the Byrd Institute, was interviewed on ABC Action News to announce a new clinical trial being conducted at the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute. The trial is called the AHEAD Study and is being conducted at 75 sites across the US and Canada. We are very pleased to be part of such a groundbreaking research study and we know the impact this could have worldwide.

I have been working as a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Thinakaran's lab since November 2018 (since October 2019 at USF). I work on the characterization of the biological pathways and pathogenic mechanisms regulated by BIN1, the second most common late-onset Alzheimer's disease risk factor.
I am happy for the award and thankful to my mentor, Dr. Thinakaran, my co-workers and to USF community.

I joined USF as a Research Technician in Dr. Laura Blair’s lab in January of 2017. I was inspired by the research that was being done in the lab and the Byrd in general, and decided to pursue my Master’s in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology in August 2017, while working as a technician. A year later, I realized I wanted to further my education and decided to apply for the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program at USF. They graciously accepted me, and I joined the class of 2019 right after my graduation from the MS program in august 2019.
I have been mostly working on how HSP90 co-chaperones modulate tau as we age and contribute to Alzheimer’s disease pathology. For my PhD work, I am currently studying the relationships between FKBP51 (a co-chaperone of HSP90) and its role in stress induced PTSD.

From a young age I was intrigued by how the human body operated and the way diseases could affect the functions it routinely performs. After three years of pursuing a Biology degree at the Universidad Simon Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela, I decided to transfer to the University of South Florida to finish my undergraduate studies, where I obtained my B.S. in Biomedical Sciences during the Fall of 2016. During my time as an undergraduate student, I was determined to acquire experience in the research field specifically in the study of neurodegenerative diseases. I joined the Ph.D. program in Integrated Biomedical Sciences at USF Morsani College of Medicine during the Fall of 2017. In Dr. Kang’s lab, I have been dedicated to the study of the protein Slingshot 1 (SSH1) and how it affects mitochondria through different pathways in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. SSH1 is a protein phosphatase that has been reportedly involved in Cofilin activation, an actin filament severing protein. Our lab has found that SSH1 is able to activate Cofilin, which then migrates to mitochondria causing mitochondrial dysfunction and toxicity. Additionally, we recently published our work showing how SSH1 is also able to affect mitochondria through the blockage of mitochondrial clearance (mitophagy), due to the dephosphorylation/deactivation of the autophagy cargo receptor P62. We hope our further studies can elucidate the interplay between the different functions of SSH1 in Alzheimer’s diseased brains to better understand this disorder and provide better targets for future AD treatments. I appreciate and are truly proud to be awarded the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship to support this research. 
Born in Colombia, I was raised in the US since middle school. I have always been fascinated by science. In my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to participate in research on enzymes, biological catalyst, and their mechanism of action. Currently, I am a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Laura Blair at the USF Heath Neuroscience Institute. My work is focused on using molecular chaperones, which are helper proteins in the cell, to regulate the accumulation of tau, a primary hallmark in Alzheimer’s disease. More specifically, I am studying how heat shock protein 22 (Hsp22) affects tau. Hsp22, like other small Hsps, interacts with misfolding proteins and holds onto them until they can be processed for refolding or degradation. So far, results from my project have showed that high levels of Hsp22 in areas of learning and memory in mice with tau pathology can preserve the cognitive and nerve cell function. I am currently investigating if fragments of the Hsp22 protein can also protect against tau aggregation, and if these fragments or the full-length Hsp22 can alter tau prion-like seeding in cells. I am grateful to be a recipient of the Dorothy Benjamin Fellow, which will further allow me to study Hsp22 and its effects on Alzheimer’s Disease as well as enrich my training experience by supporting my attendance at a national conference.
We are pleased to announce the award of a $1.1 million grant from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to Dr. David Kang, PhD. Dr. Kang is the Director of Basic Research at the Byrd Institute, Professor of Molecular Medicine at USF Health, and a VA investigator at the James A. Haley VA Hospital. The new study will investigate the role of an enzyme called SSH1 in regulating ‘autophagy’, a cellular process underlying the clearance of toxic misfolded proteins and damaged cellular components. Such ‘autophagy’ process is impaired in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Over the next 4 years, this grant will focus on the molecular mechanisms and therapeutic strategies to enhance autophagy and the clearance of pathological tau protein from brain. 
Byrd Institute welcomes Dr. Gopal Thinakaran, PhD, an internationally recognized Alzheimer’s disease researcher from the department of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago. Supported by $5.5 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant funding, his research focuses on cutting-edge molecular and cellular processes underlying Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. At USF Health, Dr. Thinakaran will assume leadership roles as associate dean for neuroscience research, NSI associate director of research, and Bagnor Endowed Chair in Alzheimer’s Research. He will also serve as Professor of Molecular Medicine and Byrd Institute. 
Byrd Institute welcomes Dr. Bradlee Heckmann, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine and Byrd investigator. Dr. Heckmann received his PhD from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and postdoctoral training from world-renowned researcher Dr. Douglas Green at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Dr. Heckmann’s research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms, as well as physiological influences that govern neuroimmunity. He recently discovered a non-canonical use of the autophagy machinery in a process called LC3-associated endocytosis. He further identified a role for this pathway in regulating neuroinflammation and in the prevention of amyloid deposition and neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease. His work at USF Health and the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute will continue to focus on understanding the non-canonical roles of the autophagy machinery and other mechanisms in regulating neuroinflammation. Cumulatively, Dr. Heckmann and his research program aim to further our understanding of how our brains are protected against neurodegeneration, and how to therapeutically target neurodegenerative diseases, infections, cancer, and beyond.
We are thrilled to announce the award of a $1.9 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to co-PIs Dr. David Kang, PhD, and Dr. Alexa Woo, PhD. Dr. Kang is the Director of Basic Research at the Byrd Institute and Professor of Molecular Medicine. Dr. Woo, also a Byrd investigator, is an Assistant Professor in the department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology. The new project aims to understand how USP11, a multifunctional enzyme known to remove ubiquitin chains from proteins, contributes to tau tangle pathology in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related tauopathies. Over the next 5 years, this grant will allow them to determine if USP11 activity and associated mechanisms represent promising therapeutic targets to mitigate tau pathogenesis in AD.  [No text in field]
 The Byrd Institute announces the award of a $950,000 Veterans Affairs (VA) grant to Laura Blair, PhD an Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine and a Byrd NSI Investigator. While the incidence of physical wounds has dropped in veterans, many soldiers are returning from deployment suffering from psychological wounds that manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). The major goal of this 4-year study is to develop strategies to deplete the stress-associated protein FKBP51 while deepening the understanding of FKBP51 biology, with the long-range goal of enhancing the psychological resiliency of soldiers and veterans. Such efforts are also expected to help the general population suffering from stress-related neurological disorders that impair cognitive brain function. 
We are excited to welcome Dr. Angele Parent, PhD, from the University of Chicago. She studies how the brain remembers and what goes wrong with memory storage mechanisms in neurodegenerative diseases, focusing on communication between nerve cells (synaptic transmission) and neuronal plasticity. She recently received a 5-year $1.75 million NIH grant to examine how changes in APP metabolism affect memory in sleep-disturbed Alzheimer’s models. Dr. Parent will serve as Associate Professor of Molecular Medicine and Byrd Institute.
The Byrd Institute announces the award of a $1.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to Jung A (Alexa) Woo, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology and a Byrd Investigator. Dr. Woo’s grant focuses on beta-arrestins, which are proteins classically known to bind and modify the function of cell surface receptors called GPCRs. Over the next five years, this grant will allow her to investigate how beta-arrestins alter the tau tangle protein to mitigate the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), possibly leading to new AD therapies.
The April 2019 issue of the eNeuro Journal an official online scientific journal for the Society for Neuroscience, has featured an interview with Dr. Laura Blair, a Byrd investigator. In the interview, Dr. Blair talks about her recent publication in eNeuro describing the cellular and behavioral deficits in a transgenic mouse model in which the FKBP5 gene is overexpressed. Increased FKBP5 has been associated with several psychiatric disorders.  The interview goes on to describe her research philosophy and the focus of her laboratory. Full detailed transcript of the interview and paper can be found here.
Dr. Lianchun Wang  recently joined the Byrd Institute as a Professor of Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology. His research focuses on heparan sulfate (HS), a linear sugar present at the surface of cells and extracellular matrix. He has worked to understand the functions and related structures of HS in inflammation, blood vessel development, cancer, and stem cell biology. Dr. Wang’s research also extends to Alzheimer’s, with a focus on the aberrant expression of HS as a potential biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of the disease. This NIH-funded research examines the role of HS in the regulation of amyloid beta metabolism and neuroinflammation attributing to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Krishna Bhat

Dr. Krishna Bhat launches NIH-funded research program

We are excited to announce a $1.5 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded to Krishna Bhat, MD, PhD, Professor of Molecular Medicine and Byrd Institute Investigator. This grant will allow him to conduct research on genes and proteins that regulate the division of neuronal stem cells. His findings could reveal how the brain is formed during development and provide key insights to new therapies that induce the generation of new brain cells in the adult brain. This could help treat many degenerative conditions of the brain, including Alzheimer’s. 

Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute

Welcome

Welcome to the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute website.  We hope that you will find inspiration, information and hope from the work our team is doing in our research laboratories, with our clinical trials programs, with our patient care clinics  and with our caregiver, professional and community educational programs.

Contact Us

Main number: (813) 396-0606
Please call the main number and follow the recorded prompt

New Patient Appointment form

The  New Patient Appointment Form must be completed and mailed back to us in order to schedule your initial visit at our clinic.  If you can not print a copy, please call our clinic to have one mailed to you.

Byrd Institute in the News

Dr Amanda Smith, Director of Clinical Research at the Byrd Institute, is interviewed on ABC news about the new AHEAD study for individuals with no memory loss aimed to find medication to prevent Alzheimer's

University of South Florida Health neuroscientists discover a defect early in autophagy that may help develop SSH1 inhibitors to treat Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases

The Byrd Institute is participating in a worldwide clinical study aimed to delay or prevent Alzheimer's disease and volunteers are needed

Eileen Poiley, MS, Director of Education at the Byrd provides tips for caregivers during Covid 19 on a news segment on WFLA Bloom

Our Director of Clinical Research, Dr. Amanda Smith, joins former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Michael Clayton in discussing the importance of including people of color and those from diverse backgrounds in clinical research.

Eileen Poiley, MS, Director of Education is interviewed on USF Facebook Live on Alzheimer's and Covid 19

Next steps will accelerate our Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center

USF Research Day 2020 includes focus on Alzheimer’s

Research conducted by Byrd Institute laboratories (Drs.Woo, Liggett & Kang) focuses on preventing the buildup of brain-damaging tau tangles

Dr. Gopal Thinakaran pursues genetic clues to Alzheimer’s disease pathways 

Byrd Institute study suggests cell phone waves could combat the effects of Alzheimer's

Dr Alexa Woo's research targets B-arrestins with the aim of arresting Alzheimer's disease

Dr Amanda Smith's News Radio WFLA interview on Alzheimer's Diagnosis and Treatment

Dr Amanda Smith's News Radio WFLA interview on Alzheimer's Clinical Trials

David Kang probes brain changes in aging that tip the balance toward dementia

Next steps to accelerate our Alzheimer’s disease research, neuroscience efforts

Early life stress plus overexpressed FKBP5 protein increases anxiety behavior

Byrd Alzheimer’s Center: Basic research objectives and faculty recruitment strategy

Cofilin may be early culprit in tauopathy process leading to brain cell death

Leading Alzheimer’s researchers to join USF Health Neuroscience Institute

Jerri Edwards ranks #8 among NIH-funded researchers in Psychiatry

Byrd Institute's medical experts and resources help couple navigate Alzheimer's Journey

Supporting our Caregivers

USF researchers must overcome challenges for clinical trials success

Support groups and Workshops at the Byrd 

We are currently conducting our caregiver support group and caregiver workshops online.

Please go to our Caregiver page for more information or email the Director of Education