Dementia Alliance of North Carolina’s Lina Mae Edwards Young Investigator Research Grant Announced!

Dr. Giulia Fragola, Research Associate in Dr. Todd Cohen’s lab in the UNC Department of Neurology, has been awarded $100,000 for the 2022 Lina Mae Edwards Young Investigator Award by Dementia Alliance of North Carolina for her project entitled “Tau depletion via CRISPR/Cas technology as a therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease.”

The purpose of Dementia Alliance’s research program is to address important issues ranging across a broad spectrum of concerns in the field of dementia science and caregiver support. The program seeks to discover the basic causes, prevention and cure of these diseases, as well as the most effective approaches to family support and the enrichment of the lives of those who live with dementia.

After her postdoctoral work, developing a CRISPR based gene therapy for the treatment for Angelman syndrome and studying the role of DNA damage in neurodegeneration, Dr. Giulia Fragola started her Research Associate position in Dr. Todd Cohen’s Lab at the Department of Neurology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Here, she is focusing on the identification of possible environmental contributors to the onset of neurodegeneration, and on the development of a gene therapy for Alzheimer’s disease.

Abnormal deposition of tau in neurofibrillary tangles is the hallmark of a spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Loss of tau has been shown to significantly improve cognitive abilities and life expectancy in Alzheimer’s disease mouse models thus making tau the perfect target for gene therapy. Dr. Fragola’s project will combine cutting edge CRISPR/Cas technology to clinically approved adeno-associated virus delivery to develop a safe and long-lasting tau targeting gene therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and other tau pathologies.

“Receiving this award means a lot to me, both on a personal and a career level,” says Dr. Fragola. “This grant will allow me to take the first steps toward the development of a safe and long-lasting gene therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. I will have the opportunity to do what I love most, science, and use it to improve the lives of millions of people living with dementia and those of their loved ones. On a career level, it gives me the chance to establish my future career in understanding the causes of cognitive decline and identifying possible preventative and therapeutic approaches.”

This award was made possible with the support of Guardian Angel Thrift Shops, founded in 1999 and operated in two locations in Central North Carolina by founder and Dementia Alliance former board member, Laura Gaddis, in memory of her mother, Lina Mae Edwards. Thanks to public support, Guardian Angel Thrift Shop has been able to contribute over $3 million for dementia research in our state.