USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute

Research News


  • Two Byrd Institute researchers won awards at the 2021 USF Health Research Day.
    Niat Gebru
    , a second-year Ph.D. student at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, won the "Best Neuroscience Poster Award"
    I joined USF as a Research Technician in Dr. Laura Blair’s lab in January 2017. I was inspired by the research that was being done in the lab and at the Byrd in general, so I 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 PhD program at USF. They graciously accepted me, and I joined the class of 2019 shortly after I graduated from the MS program.   Most of my work in the lab has focused on how Hsp90 co-chaperones modulate tau as we age and may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease pathology. For my Ph.D. work, I am now studying the relationships between FKBP51 (a co-chaperone of Hsp90) and its role in stress-induced PTSD.

    Melike Yuksel,
    a Post-Doctorate Scholar at the Byrd Institute won "The Morsani College of Medicine Outstanding Post-Doctoral Scholar Research Award".
    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.  

  • Sara Cazzaro Buosi is one of two awarded the 2021 Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship
    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.

  • Santiago Rodriguez Ospina is one of two awarded the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship
    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.

  • Byrd Investigator Dr. David Kang initiates a new VA-funded study
    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.

  • 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
    Neuroscientists at the University of South Florida Health (USF Health) Byrd Alzheimer’s Center report for the first time that the protein phosphatase Slingshot-1, or SSH1 for short, disrupts p62’s ability to function as an efficient “garbage collector” and thereby impairs the disposal of both damaged tau and mitochondria leaking toxins. In a preclinical study, the researchers showed that SSH1’s influence in halting p62-mediated protective clearance of tau was separate from SSH1’s role in activating cofilin, an enzyme that plays an essential part in worsening tau pathology. Their findings were published Oct. 12  in Autophagy.

  • Byrd Institute welcomes new researcher
    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.

  • Byrd Investigators Dr. David Kang and Dr. Alexa Woo spearhead a new NIH-funded research project
    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.

  • Next steps will accelerate our Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center
    The  three main missions of the Byrd Alzheimer’s Center Division of Basic Research are 1.Identifying the root causes of dementia, 2. Devising promising strategies for therapeutic intervention, and 3. Early detection of dementia. This article discusses the research challenges and plans for the Byrd Institute to build a world-class Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research program. 
  • USF Research Day 2020 includes focus on Alzheimer’s
    Keynote speaker, Allan Levey, MD, PhD, professor and chair at Emory University’s Department of Neurology, shared his perspective on “Racing to a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease” at the USF Research Day 2020.  His presentation on pursuing treatment and a cure for Alzheimer’s directly coincides with a focus of USF Health.
  • Gopal Thinakaran pursues genetic clues to Alzheimer’s disease pathways
    Gopal Thinakaran, PhD, professor of molecular medicine and associate dean for neuroscience research at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine is conducting research that focuses on understanding genetic risk factors that may offer new therapy targets to delay or protect against age-related cognitive decline. Dr. Thinakaran oversees a laboratory at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute where he uses cutting-edge cell biology techniques and mouse models to study the molecular and cellular processes underlying Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The USF Neuroscience Institute  announces the 2019 winners of the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship in Alzheimer’s Disease.   
    The Dorothy Benjamin Fellowship is made possible by a generous donation from Dorothy Benjamin with an Endowment for Alzheimer’s Research.  Each year PhD students who are doing research in Alzheimer’s disease are eligible to apply for a one to two year fellowship that supports their research.  This year two candidates were awarded $12,000 per year. The two candidates are Chao Ma and Yan Yan.
  • Byrd NSI Investigator Dr. Blair launches a new VA-funded research program
    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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Byrd Investigator Dr. Alexa Woo launches a new NIH-funded research program
    We are excited to announce the award of a $1.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to Dr. Jung A (Alexa) Woo, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Molecular Pharmacology & 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 5 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.

  • Interview with Dr. Laura Blair
    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.

  • The Byrd Institute is pleased to welcome Dr. Lianchun Wang who has recently joined the Byrd Institute as a Professor of Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology.   
  • Byrd Institute welcomes Dr. Krishna Bhat, who has recently joined the Byrd Institute as a Professor of Molecular Medicine and the Goldsmith Endowed Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Congratulations to Dr. Jeremy Baker and Dr. Dylan Finneran for successfully defending their dissertations on November 9th, 2018. Dr. Baker, who also received the Chih Foundation Research and Publication award, will begin his postdoctoral training at the University of Washington and VA Puget Sound in early 2019.Dr. Finneran will be joining our former colleague, Dave Morgan, at Michigan State University. The USF Health-NSI wish Drs. Baker and Finneran great success in their future endeavors.