MCB’s Dr. Melanie Alpaugh wins a Brain Star Award for research on the blood-brain barrier

Posted on Wednesday, May 1st, 2024

Melanie AlpaughDr. Melanie Alpaugh from the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology has won a Brain Star Award from the Canadian Association for Neuroscience and the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, for research into blood-brain barrier disruptions in Parkinson’s disease.

The work, which she co-led with Dr. Aurélie de Rus Jacquet from Université Laval, who also won a Brain Star Award, was completed while Alpaugh was a postdoctoral fellow at Laval. Alpaugh joined the College of Biological Science as an assistant professor shortly before the article was published.

In Parkinson’s disease patients, astrocytes can be abnormal, which contributes to  the blood-brain barrier becoming “leaky,” letting some substances into the brain that it shouldn’t and preventing others from leaving. Researchers believe this could contribute to the progression of the disease.

Alpaugh, Jacquet and their team used stem cells from patients with Parkinson’s to build a mini model of a blood-brain barrier. Testing on that model barrier showed that by blocking the signaling pathway MEK1/2 with a drug, the astrocytes were better able to maintain a healthy blood-brain barrier. Their study, “The contribution of inflammatory astrocytes to BBB impairments in a brain-chip model of Parkinson’s disease,” was published in Nature Communications in June 2023.

“The research emphasizes the importance of studying cells other than neurons,” says Alpaugh. “There’s more going on in Parkinson’s disease than just neuronal death. By building our understanding of the role of astrocytes, we may eventually be able to treat other aspects of the disease and potentially slow its progression.”

Alpaugh is continuing her research on the blood-brain barrier, using mini models to study how cardiovascular diseases like hypertension affect the function of the barrier and how this may impact brain disease such as Huntington’s disease and schizophrenia.

The Brain Star Award, a $1,500 award granted each year, recognizes excellence in research done in Canada by students and trainees in the fields of neuroscience, mental health and addiction.

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