The National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center is now accepting applications for its New Investigator Awards, which have helped launch the careers of nine Alzheimer’s disease scientists since 2018. This year, the Center is offering two awards, each valued at $135,000. Past recipients of the award describe it as transformative.
Corey McMillan, PhD, who is now an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA, studies primary age-related tauopathies, in which individuals’ brains develop tangles of tau protein, but no amyloid plaques. “We’re interested in whether there’s something special about [these] individuals that makes them resistant to amyloid, and if we can learn from that, then perhaps we can identify targets for [Alzheimer’s] disease resistance,” says McMillan.
The NACC New Investigator Award, which McMillan won in 2018, made primary age-related tauopathy, or PART, a major focus of his lab. “My career prior to then had really focused on … frontotemporal degeneration, which is another form of tauopathy,” says McMillan, adding that the grant allowed him to pivot his new lab’s work toward PART. “That funding also led to good preliminary data, which then led to my first R01 [grant], so that was a big component to getting my lab up and running and really launching my career,” he says.
"It was a truly invaluable opportunity; I am very grateful for it. I urge my students and trainees to apply"
Besides the money, the grant also provides important networking opportunities. Grant recipients are invited to present their results at one of the NACC’s semiannual directors’ meetings. “It’s a pretty high-profile meeting, where a lot of the main leaders in the field are, and as part of the award you give a talk at that meeting, so that’s also a good opportunity to build your profile as a young investigator,” says McMillan.
Tamar Gefen, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, was also studying non-Alzheimer’s tauopathies when she won the award in 2019. “The goal [of my project] was to establish links between manifestations of behavior and markers of neurodegeneration. Research participants at the Northwestern [Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center] were diagnosed in life with dementia syndromes, and followed longitudinally until they generously donated their brains. I benefited from the opportunity to understand these participants in life and in death,” says Gefen.
The NACC award was also crucial in Gefen securing an R01. “I opened the Laboratory for Translational Neuropsychology in January 2020. It is the first lab at Northwestern that bridges clinical neuropsychology with anatomic pathology,” she says. Gefen now also co-directs the Clinical Core of the Northwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Like McMillan, she says her career benefited immensely from the New Investigator Award. “It was a truly invaluable opportunity; I am very grateful for it. I urge my students and trainees to apply,” says Gefen.
In addition to the traditional award, open to proposals focusing on any aspect of Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions, this year’s program includes a separate award for projects with a strong research focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Both awards are open to any new investigator at an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center who has not had an R01 grant. The application deadline is February 20.