Laura Owlett, Ph.D., is a MD/PhD candidate in the Medical Science Training Program and worked in the lab of M. Kerry O’Banion, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Neuroscience and Neurology in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience and John Olschowka, Ph.D., professor of Neuroscience. She was awarded a competitive National Institute of Health (NIH) F30 grant to support research that is seeking to understand why microglia – the brain’s immune cells – do not effectively clear the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Owlett hypothesized that activating the Axl receptor – which is thought to prompt microglia to clean waste and calm inflammation – would reduce the accumulation of plaque in the brain. “The F30 really allowed me to take off with this project because the Axl receptor pathway is a novel focus for our lab. It came out of a previous project as an interesting avenue to pursue,” Owlett said.
By overexpressing Axl’s ligand to increase the activity of Axl on microglia, Owlett observed that while plaque numbers went down, activation of Axl actually heightened inflammation, which was the opposite of what was expected. “It was really interesting to us,” Owlett said. “It fits well with our understanding of how inflammation can help clear plaque but also hints at a new role for Axl in the brain.”
Owlett is in her third year of medical school, and hopes to pursue a residency in neurology. She is one of six current students with an NIH F30 or F31 grant. In the past five years, neuroscience students have been awarded more than $1.7 million in NIH training grants to conduct research at the Medical Center.
Students with current F31 and F30 awards
Ian DeAndrea-Lazarus F31 - $250,080
Karl Foley F30 - $200,064
Laura Owlett, Ph.D. F30 - $200,076
Keshov Sharma F30 - $202,080
Mark Stoessel F31 - $136,560
Brendan Whitelaw F30 - $201,576
Originally published in NEUROSCIENCE Volume 8.