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Gaine, Zhang win INI Williams-Cannon Fellowships for neurodegeneration research

Two University of Iowa faculty members have been awarded Williams-Cannon Faculty Fellowships through the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. Marie Gaine, PhD, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences and experimental therapeutics, and Qiang (Johnson) Zhang, MD, clinical assistant professor of neurology, will each receive $47,500 in research funding.

Created through a gift to the UI Center for Advancement from Sue and Frank Cannon, the fellowships support faculty research in neurodegeneration. Both Gaine and Zhang study fundamental brain mechanisms with a goal of developing novel therapies for neurodegenerative disease.

Marie Gaine, PhDGaine studies genetic and environmental factors leading to neurodegenerative and psychiatric disease. One line of research focuses on neurodegenerative symptoms in mice exposed to pesticides commonly found in Iowa agricultural settings. Another explores how sleep deprivation may exacerbate learning, memory, and anxiety in mice genetically predisposed to neurodegeneration. In both cases, Gaine suspects that a combination of genetic mutations and environmental factors influence the neurodegenerative symptoms. By understanding the specific biological pathways impacted, Gaine hopes to make advances in efforts to develop novel therapeutic targets to rescue these effects.

Qiang (Johnson) Zhang, MDZhang is pursuing novel therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s dementia. He studies the role of glycolysis--the chemical reaction in the brain that uses sugar to produce energy--in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. University of Iowa research has shown that terazosin, a drug widely used to treat high blood pressure and benign prostatic hyperplasia, can enhance glycolysis and energy production. Zhang seeks to extend this finding to determine whether the drug could be effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, Zhang’s lab team is working to unravel the neuronal circuitry that involves a key neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Drugs that enhance acetylcholine currently are the main treatments for cognitive symptoms in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s dementia, but they are associated with significant side effects and provide limited improvement. Zhang’s goal is to understand the details of acetylcholine circuitry in the brain, to develop more precise therapies.

The Cannons’ gift and their passion to support research stems from seeing their loved ones affected by Alzheimer’s disease. They are committed to helping Iowa researchers leave a mark in the important study of this disease and others like it, in hopes that there will be better outcomes and therapies for patients and families.

The Iowa Neuroscience Institute builds on the university’s decades-long tradition as a leading center for the study of neuroscience, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and supporting innovation in foundational, translational, and clinical research.


Thursday, April 20, 2023