Quest student Claire MacMurray ’19 chats with us about her work with Alzheimer’s and how Quest is preparing her for the future.
Your paper about Alzheimer’s is complex and detailed. What’s the main takeaway for our readers?
My lab has developed an antibody that targets both of the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, which sets this therapy apart and could lead to an effective treatment.
How did you become interested in Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s affects about 44 million people worldwide and over 700,000 in Canada. We need significant research to cure, treat, and prevent it. It’s an area that’s important, and where I can contribute.
What are some challenges in Alzheimer’s research?
Alzheimer’s doesn’t occur in any animals besides humans, which is why we need to genetically engineer mice to express the pathology. Unfortunately, that limits the study of Alzheimer’s, and might explain why some therapies that worked in animals don’t work when tested in humans. Our understanding of the brain is also pretty minimal.
What’s something you’d want people to know about Alzheimer’s?
This is speculation, but I really believe we can be proactive about our brain health. There’s so much we don’t know about brain function, but that’s no reason to disregard the evidence that does exist, or to think the situation is hopeless. We can choose lifestyles that limit our exposure to things that might promote inflammation (e.g. stress). We can read the research. And we can stay talkative.
When I say talkative, I mean two things. First, I use daily conversation to share what I’m doing in the lab, or what I’ve recently read, and this helps demystify the science. Second, social interaction may play a huge role in maintaining cognitive function, especially as we age.
At the molecular level, feeling connected is pretty darn transformative.
In what ways is Quest preparing you for future work in your field?
It boils down to taking ownership of my education, such as writing my Question: making a goal explicit and visualizing how I might achieve it.
During my first summer in the lab, my intentions were clear, and that’s because Question really encouraged me to take time to think. My mentor, Marina Tourlakis, was also invaluable! Quest stresses the power of thinking critically and creatively, which are both crucial to scientific progress.
Why did you choose Quest?
I chose Quest because of the academic program, the size of the school, and the location.
When you’re not in the lab, what do you do for fun?
I really love to go grocery shopping with my best mates, Max and Kris. They’re just the best. That, or spend time in the woods.