Professor of Biology, Cell Biology and Neuroscience
Director, Neuroscience Undergraduate Program
University of Virginia
Department of Biology
Q: What inspired you to become an Alzheimer’s disease researcher?
A: Until I started working on AD my lab studied (among other things) how intracellular filaments known as “microtubules” assemble from a protein called “tubulin”. My initial motivation for getting into in AD research was to figure out what protein(s) form neurofibrillary tangles in AD brain, and how they assemble into filaments.
Q: How has Alzheimer’s disease affected your life or the lives of those around you?
A: My father celebrated his 99th birthday on December 9, 2016. He was very sharp mentally until a few years ago, but because he apparently has AD his mental facilities have declined very swiftly since then. If he survives into 2017, I do not expect it to be for long. It has been painful to watch his downward spiral, but I take comfort in knowing that he had such a long and productive life until a relatively short time ago.
Q: How has research changed over the years?
A: For more than half of my independent scientific career I functioned as a basic cell biologist who studied how cells move and change shape, and how intracellular structures are transported along microtubules from place to place within the cell. Although my lab is now focused on what happens at the very beginning to convert normal, healthy neurons into AD neurons, in retrospect that line of research evolved directly from my earlier work on microtubule-based transport.
Q: How does it feel to be working on something that can potentially help millions of people worldwide?
A: It’s very satisfying, and will be even more so if my lab contributes in a major way to preventing or controlling AD.
Q: Do you think we’ll see a cure for Alzheimer’s disease within our lifetimes?
A: I expect major progress within 10-15 years toward the development of drugs that prevent or slow the progression of AD.