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M. Kerry O'Banion '90M (FLW), MD, PHD

Meet The Scientist 


Vice Chair and Professor, Department of Neuroscience
Professor, Department of Neurology

Alzheimer’s Disease and Neuroinflammation

When Dr. M. Kerry O’Banion first came to the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, his research focused on chronic inflammation and viruses. However, over a four-year period, the collaborative research experience he had at the School—coupled with his grandfather’s diagnosis of and rapid decline from dementia— resulted in O’Banion shifting his work to studying inflammation’s effect on the brain. 

Neuroinflammation—or inflammation of the central nervous system—can be either helpful or damaging, depending on the length and native of the inflammatory process, and is now acknowledged as a feature of all neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, scientists have been able to link some genetic causes of Alzheimer’s to inflammation, making it an invaluable aspect to study in disease development and progression. 

“We are exploring how to modulate the inflammatory response by re-programming the microglia—the cells that mediate inflammation in the brain—to harness the benefit of inflammation, but squelch the toxic effects of these cells and eliminate the spread of disease,” says O’Banion. 

For 12 years, O’Banion’s lab has also focused on space radiation exposure for NASA, shedding light on how radiation effects brain function. This cross-cutting research may yield important information about the effect of cancer treatment and its impact on the underlying biology of aging. These findings could help influence our understanding of how Alzheimer’s develops and provide better approaches to research and treatments. 

“Developing new treatments and preventions for Alzheimer’s will take a critical mass of investigators who are focused on new ways to think about this very complex disease,” says O’Banion. “Given the amazing environment here in which scientists, clinicians, engineers, and other faculty and students are encouraged to talk with one another about our ideas, combined with the generous philanthropy of the community, we can play a significant role in defeating this devastating disease.”