GREAT FALLS — McLaughlin Research Institute (MRI) assistant professor Tiffany Hensley-McBain was recently awarded her first funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The $450,000 grant will fund her study of Alzheimer’s disease.
“I really do think that there have been pieces of the immune system that have been overlooked,’ said Hensley-McBain, an immunologist. “I think that by really digging into this we can find new treatment targets.”
Hensley-McBain's project is entitled “Investigating neutrophilic inflammation as an APOE genotype-specific mediator of neuroinflammation and cognitive decline in aging.” It will study the tiny neutrophil cell which can wreak havoc in tissues.
“Because we think that a specific genetic risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease may be one of the reasons that this cell can get into the brain and really damage brain tissue,” said Hensley-McBain.
According to a news release from the McLaughlin Research Institute, a specific version of the APOE gene, APOE4, is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, increasing the risk 12-fold when a person has 2 copies of the gene. No studies have investigated the gene’s impact on neutrophil responses despite a proposed role for neutrophils in Alzheimer’s disease.
MRI staff believe this is the first Alzheimer’s grant in Montana in several decades.
The grant money will provide salary support for lab staff as well as supplies and equipment. It will also help the organization hire more scientists.
“Science is really collaborative,” said McLaughlin Research institute professor and vice president Dr. Deborah Cabin. “It really helps to have more scientists to talk to, to bounce ideas off of. It’s going to really raise McLaughlin’s profile, make us even better.”
Hensley-McBain says with hundreds of drugs in clinical trials, she’s optimistic an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease will one day be available.
“Even though we’ve been studying this disease for a century now, I think we’re just on the precipice of different types of treatments, different treatment options. I do think these different targets for these treatment options are going to be really important and impactful.”
Hensely-McBain is a Great Falls native and opened her lab at MRI about 14 months ago. She says the academic career can feel really long with graduate school, post-doctoral work and then starting a lab. She calls her first funding from the NIH a huge milestone.
“For me it was very exciting. I feel very fortunate to do research right here,” said Hensley-McBain. “For me getting to contribute to the institute and bring this funding in where I actually get to provide salary support for other scientists that grew up in Great Falls or that were trained right here in Montana and want to this kind of research right here is just real exciting. It just brings it all full circle for me.”
Hensley-McBain says Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. She says the Alzheimer’s Association projects a 22.7% increase in the disease among Montanans over the age 65 between 2020 and 2025.
The Great Falls chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association will hold its annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday morning, September 24th at Centene Stadium. Registration begins at 9:00 a.m. with opening ceremonies beginning at 10:00 a.m. For more information, click here: https://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk2022/MT-Montana?pg=entry&fr_id=15704
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