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  • Writer's picturePenn FTD Center

The Future of Research: Talented Grant Recipients Make Progress in ADRD Research

In August of 2022, three talented predoctoral trainees were chosen from a competitive pool of applicants to participate in a new National Institute of Health (NIH) training grant, “Cross-disciplinary training in translational neuroimaging of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD)”, directed by Dr. Corey McMillan and Dr. John Detre. This innovative program provides structured training and support for pre- and postdoctoral scientists interested in utilizing translational neuroimaging tools to understand the pathophysiology of ADRD. Through a combination of coursework, topical seminars and journal clubs, and a mentored research project, trainees will engage in cross-disciplinary training that will empower them to use neuroimaging tools to bring new insights to the ADRD neuroimaging field.

The three trainees are diving into diverse research topics. Frederick Xu, a Bioengineering PhD student working with Dr. Li Shen, is studying “Topological Data Analysis of Brain Networks in Alzheimer’s Disease”. Evan Gallagher, a Neuroscience PhD candidate working with Dr. Robert Mach, is working on “Preclinical evaluation of [18F]ROStrace as an in vivo biomarker of oxidative stress in tauopathies”. Lasya Sreepada, a Bioengineering PhD student working with Drs. Corey McMillan and David Wolk, is working on a project titled “Deciphering heterogeneity in Alzheimer’s Disease and related atypical variants using imaging, epigenetics, and artificial intelligence”.

We welcomed the trainees to share their experiences so far. Evan Gallagher said, “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that research is not a linear path from point A to point B. That may seem obvious, but when you’re first planning out the experiments you’re going to do for a big project like this, it’s extremely easy to say, ‘I’m going to do A B and C first, and those studies will show X Y and Z, and once we’ve got the basic experiments out of the way we can move on to the really interesting stuff.’ But then you actually do A B and C, and the results look absolutely nothing like you expect them to.” Evan’s research focuses on developing a novel way to detect Parkinson’s disease using brain imaging. Though there’s still plenty to learn, Evan is excited about the progress he’s made since the grant began. “It feels like I’ve really been trending upwards since this grant started, and I’m very much hoping to keep that positive momentum going in the months ahead!”

Fellow trainee Lasya Sreepada agrees. “I have really enjoyed being part of the [grant] and I have benefitted from the monthly cohort meetings and workshops. I appreciate having the opportunity to meet with professors who are renowned in the field, discuss scientific ideas and approaches, and receive constructive feedback on my work.” Her research aims to disentangle heterogeneity in Alzheimer’s Disease, with a focus on atypical variants including early-onset AD. She says, “Ultimately, this research may provide insights into potential disease mechanisms and therapeutics for AD.”

Trainee Frederick Xu says, with the support of this grant, he’s made great progress in his analysis of applying threshold-free topological data analysis (TDA) to map the disruptions in brain connectivity in Alzheimer’s Disease. He says, “Through the great opportunity provided by the T32 predoctoral fellowship and collaborations with the other researchers, I hope to complete my cross-disciplinary training in the translational neuroimaging study for further developing and applying advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computational approaches to analyze big biobank imaging data to advance the study of Alzheimer’s Disease Related Dementias.”

These trainees will receive two years of training and support that will allow them to develop the skills and gain knowledge to advance a career in neuroimaging research in ADRD. You can learn more about these trainees and the grant here.

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