Alzheimer’s research fund awards UT professor grant for study

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A UT professor received a $165,000 grant from the Darrell K Royal Research Fund for Alzheimer’s Disease for a research study that focuses on improving the memory of patients with cognitive impairments.

Psychology associate professor Marie Monfils will begin her research by testing rodents with mild cognitive impairments, hoping to improve their memory using a reconsolidation-update technique.

If her research shows signs of cognitive development, she will test participants or focus groups with mild cognitive impairments. Monfils said she may later test her model on people who suffer from Alzheimer’s, but feels it is too soon to speculate at this stage.

“I should emphasize that my research won’t focus on Alzheimer’s, per se, but rather on a model of mild cognitive impairments,” Monfils said. “The rationale is that, if my technique can improve memory in such a model, we could next move forward and test its effectiveness in Alzheimer’s.”

Monfils will work closely with three graduate students, an undergraduate student and a research assistant from UT. Ira Driscoll, psychology assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will work with Monfils on the project.

“Ira and I have collaborated together a lot over the years, and she is a specialist of the aging brain,” Monfils said.

The main factors influencing Monfils’ decision to research cognition are her specialization in fear of traumatic memories and her grandmother’s memory deficits in her later years.

“I spend a lot of my research examining ways to decrease the potency of memories,” Monfils said. “A few years back, I came up with a way to attenuate fear memories that seems to work quite well. Since then, I’ve wondered if a similar technique could be used to modify memories in a different direction — to improve memory.”

The Texas Council on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders has a panel of scientists specializing in Alzheimer’s research who evaluate and judge applications and make recommendations for funding, according to Deborah S. Hanna, chair of the organization. The grants for research studies are primarily focused in Texas but are open to all other states. Monfils was one of six selected applicants who were awarded funds.

“Additionally a second UT Austin scientist received the same amount of funding as Dr. Monfils — Maya Henry,” Hanna said via email.