Professor Roberta Diaz Brinton, R. Pete Vanderveen Chair in Therapeutic Discovery and Development, has been named Scientist of the Year by the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. The distinction honors Brinton’s research focusing on how the brain develops Alzheimer’s and on translating the resulting discoveries into therapeutics to prevent, delay and treat the disease.
Brinton’s work looks at both aging and Alzheimer’s disease which are characterized by declines in the brain and the body’s abilities to self-renew and repair. She has spent decades pursuing answers to this devastating disease with a focus on the female brain and the mechanisms that have resulted in women having a two-fold increased lifetime risk of developing it.
Alzheimer’s disease exerts a tremendous toll on patients, families and society. Every 67 seconds, another American develops the disease, which costs the nation more than $200 billion each year. Since women – who comprise two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s – are disproportionately affected, Brinton has focused extensive research on discovering why women are at greater risk and developing therapeutics to address the disease by restoring energy production and neural stem cell regeneration.
Brinton currently has two compounds in clinical trials, including Allopregnanaolone which is the first regenerative therapy to be tested for the disease and PhytoSERMS which aims to treat memory complaints and hot flashes. Her laboratory pursues this work using a systems biology approach.
“Our team investigates entire systems that are changing in the brain during aging,” said Brinton. “In the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s, combinations of changes generate the tipping point when disease develops.”
Discovering these changes enable the Brinton team to more effectively and directly translate her work into therapeutics. The Brinton approach is distinctive for its collaboration within the School of Pharmacy, across USC and nationwide. This has allowed her lab to be truly translational, leading the discovery, therapeutic development and clinical trial stages of the project.
The Brinton lab also provides a unique learning environment for students, since the team includes a range PhD, PharmD and MD scientists working shoulder-to-shoulder with graduate, undergraduate and even high school students, making it an incubator for the next generation of scientists.
Brinton’s innovative research has earned her major acclaim. In 2005, US News & World Report included her in their “Ten Best Minds,” list. President Barack Obama presented her with the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, among the nation’s highest civilian honors, for her work promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career among students of color. Los Angeles magazine named her “Woman of the Year” in 2014.
Brinton has over 180 professional publications and is a frequent speaker at national and international meetings on Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration. Her work has also been featured broadly in the media, including The New York Times, ABC, CBS and Science Friday. Brinton’s research funding includes the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, the Kenneth T. and Eileen Norris Foundation and the Whittier Foundation.
The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation provides funding to leading scientists who are conducting the most promising, innovative Alzheimer’s disease drug research worldwide.