UNCP hosts Duke-UNC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center’s annual symposium

 UNCW student, Alyssa Casillas, presenting at the Duke/UNC SLAM DUNC conference at UNC Pembroke
UNCW student Alyssa Casillas presenting at the Duke/UNC SLAM-DUNC conference at UNC Pembroke

UNC Pembroke hosted the Symposium for Learning about Alzheimer’s disease-related Medical research at Duke and UNC (SLAM-DUNC) on May 18-19.

The event attracted professors, researchers, clinicians, and trainees from 10 institutions who spent the day networking, interacting, and sharing ongoing research about the disease that affects nearly six million Americans.

Current and former undergraduate researchers from UNCP participated in poster sessions and presentations. Keynote speakers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Kentucky provided valuable guidance for drug discovery avenues, for improving diverse representation in clinical trials, and fostering ideas to monitor inflammation during disease onset in order to effectively deliver inhibitors of inflammatory pathways when most needed. One trainee’s presentation highlighted research collaboration between UNCP and UNC scientists, and another described the UNCP’s work with the U.S. Army Research Lab in Maryland.

“This has been an extraordinary day that has been phenomenal in terms of the hospitality of UNC Pembroke and also their focus on inclusivity and encouraging young people to be scientists and sponsoring young people in their careers into science,” said Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead, co-lead of the Research and Education Component of the Duke-UNC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC).

“This has been an outstanding example of the collaboration amongst the universities involved in the Duke-UNC ADRC,” Busby-Whitehead said.

The Duke-UNC ADRC works to catalyze and support research, innovations in clinical care and academic workforce development in this field with UNCP, North Carolina Central University and East Carolina University as partner institutions.

UNCP alumna Morgan Pait, who recently completed her Ph.D. in integrative physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University, was among the presenters. She is a former research assistant in the lab of Dr. Ben Bahr, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at UNCP.

“It is exciting to be able to come back because this is where I began doing Alzheimer’s research with Dr. Bahr,” Pait said. “He encouraged me to further my education and because of him, I decided to pursue and get a Ph.D., so being able to come back here full circle and share the research that I did for my Ph.D. and to see all that is going on with collaboration with UNC and Duke is exciting.”

Dani Topper, a 16-year-old high school student, flew with her parents from New York to present her extensive literature review on Alzheimer’s research. Several papers she studied were written by Bahr, one of the world’s leading experts on neurodegenerative diseases. Topper contacted Bahr, who invited her to present her study at the symposium.

“This is a great conference,” Topper said. “It is super important, I think, to get perspective on the disease and the different research that people have been working on. This is an incredible opportunity.”

Busby-Whitehead said the purpose of the ADRC is to stimulate research and education about Alzheimer’s by fostering the careers of young investigators.

“We are working with UNCP, ECU and N.C. Central and this has enriched our program immensely and helped us expand our reach across the state to foster investigations in this terrible disease with a goal ultimately leading toward understanding more the mechanisms of how this disease develops and ultimately to find ways to cure it,” Busby-Whitehead said.