On Tuesday, December 20 at 4:30 pm Eastern Time (US), Jennifer Rauch will join us for a Casual Conversation. Ms. Rauch is Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Our Class President Jim Staros asked her to spend time with us, and she has generously agreed. Here is Jim’s email to me from October 21 placing the importance of her work in a context we can all appreciate:
Jenny is a young colleague of mine at UMass who works on the molecular basis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease. What inspired me to ask her was a question from my sister, a retired administrative law judge in Florida. Briefly put, the question was why the recently introduced Alzheimer’s drugs show so little benefit to patients. My reply was that the biotech companies were following a lead prominent some years ago and as a result, may have been barking up the wrong tree.
Two kinds of lesions have been identified in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patents: plaques and tangles. Plaques form outside neuronal cells, tangles inside them. Plaques got all the early interest from biotech companies, perhaps because biological drugs (usually engineered proteins) can’t get into cells, so plaques were more accessible as a target than tangles. Jenny works on the protein, tau, that forms tangles, which I (and many others) have come to consider a more likely cause of the disease than the protein that forms plaques. Here is a link to a brief description of her research: https://www.biochem.umass.edu/faculty/jennifer-rauch .
Jim followed up with Professor Rauch’s summary of her work:
The Rauch lab is focused on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to diseases associated with protein misfolding and aggregation - with a particular focus on the neurodegenerative protein tau. Tau is an abundant and highly soluble protein, yet is known to aggregate in a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s Disease. The deposition of tau aggregates, or neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs), is correlated with cognitive decline in patients and permits neuropathological diagnoses of patients in different stages of disease. While the composition and structure of NFTs are well-characterized, the in vivo process of tau aggregation and the subsequent spread of this aggregation are not well understood phenomena.
The lab is focused on three main areas of research in regards to tau neurobiology: tau spread mechanisms, tau physical state transitions, and the influence of cellular identity on disease mechanism. The overarching goal of the lab is to understand the requirements for tau disease progression and to devise new strategies to treat disease. We use a variety of techniques in the lab (in vitro biochemistry, single cell RNA sequencing, CRISPR-based functional genomics, optogenetic technologies, etc.) across different system models (cell lines, differentiated stem cells, primary cultures, and mice) in order to build a complete picture of tau regulation.
Here is her lab website: https://sites.biochem.umass.edu/rauchlab/ .
Please consider joining us for this important discussion on Tuesday, December 20 at 4:30 pm Eastern Time (US). The usual rules apply: let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org that you want to participate in this Casual Conversation by the end of the day on Saturday, December 17.
And don’t forget to put the event in your calendar!