Ernest Solvay award for Hannah Walgrave
Hannah Walgrave, PhD student at the De Strooper lab (VIB-KU Leuven) received the Ernest Solvay Prize 2022 from the Queen Elisabeth Medical Foundation for her research on the role of adult neurogenesis in Alzheimer’s disease.
May 2, 2022
Can you tell us what adult neurogenesis is exactly, and how it affects Alzheimer’s disease?
“Adult neurogenesis is the process of generating new neurons that integrate into existing circuits after normal development. We know that people with Alzheimer's disease produce fewer new brain cells throughout their lives compared to people of the same age who do not suffer from dementia. However, the production of new brain cells can be stimulated by an active lifestyle and learning new things, so if we can understand the regulation of neurogenesis in detail, we might be able to harness this knowledge and come up with new treatments.”
How did you tackle this in your PhD research?
“We found a micro-RNA (miRNA-132) that can stimulate the production of new brain cells in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. The levels of miRNA-132 are much lower in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease though, so we tested whether we could address this in our Alzheimer’s disease animal models by supplementing this particular miRNA. We saw that indeed, the production of new brain cells increased, and what’s more, that this could improve cognitive function.”
That sounds exciting!
“Yes it does, and I believe the Queen Elisabeth Medical Foundation is also excited. Currently, we are investigating how miRNA-132 exerts its effects and whether we can translate this approach to an actual therapeutic strategy for patients. What I love about our approach is that we try to harness the brain’s innate potential to regenerate lost cells and tissues—perhaps indeed the solution will be found within this remarkable organ.”