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Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute

USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute

Research News

  • Congratulations to our MD/PhD student Natasha Ram for earning a USF Health Culture Coin. This is a well-deserved recognition! Please click here to view the USF Health news article.

  • Eileen Poiley, Director of Education Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute is featured on Channel 10 news for her Caregiver podcasts and programs. Click here to view the news segment.

  • The 2023 USF Chih Award announces Niat Gebru as the internal publication award winner.
    Niat Gebru, PhD student – My name is Niat Gebru and I am a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Medical Sciences program at the Morsani College of Medicine. My research, conducted under the guidance of Dr. Laura J Blair and Dr. Danielle Gulick at the USF Health Neuroscience Institute, investigates neuropsychiatric disorders, specifically Alzheimer's disease (AD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In AD, I explored the impact of Hsp90 cochaperones, FKBP52 and Aha1, finding that their overexpression in aged mice led to increased tau protein accumulation, triggering neuroinflammation, neuronal loss, and cognitive impairments. In the PTSD realm, my focus shifted to FKBP51, another cochaperone protein and close homologue of FKBP52. FKBP51, typically upregulated with aging and stress have been implicated in numerous neuropsychiatric disorders.  FKBP51 reduction in in stress-exposed mice have been associated with resilience-phenotypes. In summary, this journey led to my first-author review paper as well as my project which utilizes the use of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) to target Fkbp5 mRNA. We have had positive results in cell culture and have progressed to in vivo studies. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Chih Foundation Research and Publication Award committee for acknowledging the significance of my work through this award.

  • Byrd Institute welcomes new researcher, Xuewei Wang, PhD.
    Byrd Institute welcomes Dr. Xuewei Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine and Byrd investigator. Dr. Wang is joining USF Health after post-doctoral training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Wang’s post-doctoral research focused on two important factors regulating the intrinsic axon regeneration ability of neurons, namely gene transcription regulation and cytoskeleton modification. His NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) from the National Eye Institute is entitled “Deciphering the transcriptional regulatory network controlling RGC axon growth to promote RGC axon regeneration and cell survival after axonal injury. Dr. Wang’s research goal is to understand the mechanisms of nerve regeneration and neuroprotection, and to develop clinically relevant strategies that can lead to substantial CNS neural regeneration and functional recovery.

  • Gopal Thinakaran, PhD, Byrd research investigator and CEO among those honored for 2023 USF Outstanding Research Achievement.
    Gopal Thinakaran has contributed significantly to cell and molecular characterization of BIN1, the second most significant Alzheimer's disease risk gene. In 2022, he was awarded two 5-year R01 grants from NIH with total funding of $7,255,070 to investigate how variations in BIN1 elevate someone's risk for Alzheimer's disease. His research investigated BIN1 function using cell-type-specific conditional knock-out and transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. He published four papers in 2022, including one in Brain (Impact Factor, 15.26) highlighting BIN1 regulation of region-specific tau pathogenesis and neurodegeneration in a novel mouse model and another in Molecular Neurodegeneration (Impact Factor, 18.88) detailing the discovery of BIN1 function in neuroinflammation. His work has been cited 567 times in 2022. He also organized a successful workshop to train USF researchers on how to apply the state-of-the-art nanoString DSP spatial transcriptomics approaches in their research.

  • Danielle Gulick, PhD, Byrd research investigator among those honored for 2023 USF Outstanding Research Achievement.
    In 2022, Danielle Gulick earned her first R01 funding as a PI, as well as an Alzheimer's Association grant, Pharmaceutical funding and Florida High Tech Corridor funding, all to study various aspects of how alcohol addiction can be driven by external factors and how this addiction impairs neurodevelopment in return.  A second R01 submitted in 2022 is pending funding with a percentile score of 12 percent. Gulick also published multiple papers from both her lab’s solo work and collaborations across USF. She earned two awards related to her research in medical education, which she maintains along with her robust teaching responsibilities in both the medical and graduate schools. During 2022, Gulick was also featured in podcasts by the Southern Medical Journal for her research.
  • Byrd research Investigator Dr. Blair is awarded the 2023 Cathy and Paul Douglas Scholars in Alzheimer’s Discovery Award.
    The Byrd Institute announces the award of a $150,000 Douglas Scholar grant to Laura Blair, PhD, an Associate Professor here and Co-PI Brian Blagg, PhD at Notre Dame. With the project title of, “An Aha(1) Disrupter for Tauopathies”, Dr. Blair and Dr. Blagg are supporting the efforts in developing a novel therapeutic for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to the monetary grant support, they will receive access to some of the nation’s leading drug development experts as advisors and mentors through the Harrington Discovery Institute Therapeutics Development Center.
  • The USF Neuroscience Institute  announces the 2023 winners of the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship in Alzheimer’s Disease are Karthick Mayilsamy and Abigail Esquivel.
    Karthick Mayilsamy - With a bachelor`s degree in biotechnology from India, I moved to the USA in 2016 to pursue an MS in biotechnology at the Morsani College of Medicine, USF. During this period, I got an opportunity to join the lab of Prof. Subhra Mohapatra as a research assistant. My research work involved understanding the chemokine signaling pathways involving the spleen-brain axis in regulating neurodegeneration in a mouse model of traumatic brain injury (TBI). We also successfully developed a combined nano-cell-based therapy that improved pathological and behavioral outcomes by attenuating neuroinflammation in TBI mice. My doctoral research currently investigates the neurological sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection.  This study mainly focuses on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in developing the early onset of tauopathy due to severe SARS-CoV-2 infection in aged mice.  I am honored to receive the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship which will support my research and help me to gain insights in the Alzheimer's Disease field by attending conferences and workshops.  
  • The Byrd Institute congratulates Dr. Gulick and Dr. Blair on their promotions and grant awards. 
    Dr. Danielle Gulick, PhD- A researcher at the Byrd Institute, was recently promoted to Associate Professor with Tenure. Dr. Gulick also received an Alzheimer's Association research grant award to study how maternal and adolescent alcohol exposure increases the risk of neurodegeneration in the aged brain.

Dr. Laura Blair, PhD- A researcher at the Byrd Institute, was recently promoted to Associate Professor with Tenure. Dr. Blair was also awarded a grant from the Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant Program to develop a novel model to study resilience in neuropsychiatric symptoms in AD.

  • Laura Blair PhD, a researcher at the Byrd Institute, announces her R01 renewal was co-funded by NIA and NINDS. This award will support the validation FKBP51 as a target for tauopathies, like Alzheimer’s disease, and explore the molecular landscape by which FKBP51 genetic variants create a vulnerability for neuropsychiatric symptoms. Neuropsychiatric symptoms are often co-morbid with Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies correlate with a faster decline in patients.   The total direct costs for this award are $3,438,962 over 5 years.
  • The 2023 USF Research Day announces the winners of the poster and oral presentations as Emily Sandefur, Niat Gebru, and Aryeh Sudwarts.
    Emily Sandefur- I was an undergraduate student at USF and began basic science research as a volunteer at the Byrd Institute in the Summer of 2015 in the laboratory of Drs. Gulick and Gamsby. I was first motivated to pursue Alzheimer's Disease Research because my grandfather had Alzheimer's. I got admitted to the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at USF in 2020 and joined Dr. Angèle Parent's laboratory at the Byrd in January 2021. I am investigating how the signaling cascades associated with amyloid precursor protein in select brain areas of the brain can impact wake/sleep patterns and memory consolidation. I am looking into how this signaling can reduce the formation of amyloid beta and pathological tau protein, two hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. Results emanated from this study were recently presented at the Advances in Sleep and Circadian Science conference and the USF Health Research Day. I was honored to receive the "Best Poster in the Field of Neuroscience" at USF. I especially thank my current and past mentors and lab members for their support and guidance throughout the project.

Aryeh Sudwarts- We found that Alzheimer’s disease risk gene BIN1 is important for microglial phenotypic responses to amyloid and tau pathologies. BIN1 seems to regulate the surface localization of receptors, which are crucial for microglia to respond to CNS challenges. This means that BIN1’s function has consequences highly specific to each pathology. Interestingly, BIN1       effected levels of phosphorylated tau specifically in females, showing that cell type-specific sex differences can affect disease. 

  • Gopal  Thinakaran, PhD, CEO of the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute along with the members of the Thinakaran lab, are studying how a little-known protein known as BIN1 may contribute to the formation of tangles in the brain that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings have been published in the peer-reviewed  journal  Brain: A Journal of Neurology 

  • The USF Neuroscience Institute  announces the 2022 winners of the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship in Alzheimer’s Disease are Niat Gebru and Joseph McMillan.
  • Niat Gebru- "Born and raised in Eritrea, I moved to the states to pursue my higher-level education. As a doctoral student in Dr. Laura Blair’s lab, my work focuses on elucidating the relationship between FKBP51 and neuropsychiatric disorders, like PTSD and Alzheimer's disease (AD). FKBP51 in concert with Hsp90 regulates tau proteostasis and positively correlates with pathological tau. The goal is to identify ways to target FKBP51 to mitigate tau burden in AD pathophysiology. I am grateful to Dorothy Benjamin and the selection committee for the opportunity and incentive to further my professional development as well as AD research."

    Joseph McMillan-
     "I’m interested in discovering how genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease led to people getting the disease later in life. In Dr. Gopal Thinakaran’s lab, I’m studying how one of these genetic risk factors, BIN1, contributes to development of Alzheimer’s disease, which is currently a mystery. Using a cool technique called TurboID, I hope to discover BIN1’s protein neighborhood in neurons, allowing us to better understand BIN1’s role in Alzheimer’s disease. I am honored to receive the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship, which will support this work and hopefully bring us ever closer to an effective treatment for this devastating disease."
  • Dr. Moorthi Ponnusamy, a post-doctoral scholar at the  Byrd Institute, was awarded a Fellowship from the Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant program.
    "I was born, raised, and received my doctorate in India (2018). I have been a neurobiologist for 13 years and am passionate about finding novel strategies to treat devastating neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. During my doctoral research, I had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative study with the Thinakaran Lab. and was pleased that he generously accepted me to be a part of his team. As a post- doctoral scholar for the past four years, I have been actively investigating the molecular mechanisms behind the GWAS gene BIN1 as a susceptibility risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease using cell-type-specific conditional knock-out and transgenic mice. One of the crucial findings from my research is that neuronal BIN1 positively regulates hippocampal microglial APOE expression and the severity of tau pathology. Over the next three years, this Alzheimer’s Association Research Fellowship will help me characterize the interplay between BIN1 and APOE (the top two risk genes for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease) tau pathophysiology and elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying BIN1-dependent APOE modulation of tauopathy. Finally, I am extremely grateful for receiving the AARF award, and I thank my mentor Prof. Gopal Thinakaran, my dear colleagues, the USF members, and Alzheimer’s Association team members."

  • Danielle Gulick, PhD was awarded an NIH RO1 grant  for $2,163,989 for over 5 years.
    “Effects of circadian desynchrony during adolescent alcohol exposure on immediate and long-term risk of alcohol addiction: role of sleep homeostasis and stress signaling”
    This proposal will test the independent contributions of disrupted circadian rhythms and sleep in adolescence to long-term alcohol addiction liability, as well as the potential for chronotherapy to reduce alcohol consumption in both adolescents and adults.