Michelle Steinhilb, an assistant professor of biology, wants to understand the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease in order to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. And she is doing it with the help of the fruit fly.
Alzheimer’s disease belongs to a group of related disorders known as “tauopathies” with the common feature involving tau proteins, which are highly abundant in neurons. Normally, tau physically interacts with certain proteins to help cells maintain their shape and transport critical substances to cellular locations where they are needed. Alzheimer’s disease conditions, however, lead to a breakdown of normal tau function.
Steinhilb researches the role of tau in Alzheimer’s disease, using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to model features of human Alzheimer’s disease. She hopes that clarification of the role that tau breakdown plays in neurodegeneration may lead to new treatment strategies.
Steinhilb’s research is supported extensively through grant support, including a recent $170,000 National Institutes of Health award and a two-year $75,000 CMU Research Excellence Fund award.