Mac Ishii, MD, PhD

Dr. Mac Ishii of Weill Cornell Medical College gives an overview of his work toward a better understanding and earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about Dr. Ishii's research.


So my name is Mac Ishii. I'm an Assistant Professor of neuroscience and neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. I am a neurologist and I currently study Alzheimer's disease.

So I've been really fortunate. I would say I've had a long-standing relationship with BrightFocus. So when I was finishing my neurology residency training, I was trying to figure out my career path and I knew I was interested in Alzheimer's disease. I had done a PhD in molecular genetics and understanding how the brain controls the body weight. I was trying to figure out how to marry those two interests together.

So the the main hypothesis that we had was if weight loss is happening very early, even before patients with Alzheimer's disease have any real significant memory or cognitive or behavior issues, why are they losing weight? And so, earlier when I was a graduate student I was studying how the brain circuits just controlled body weight and eating, and so the idea was — does Alzheimer's disease does a disease you know we think that is caused by these proteins called amyloid beta and tau — does it affect the brain regions that control body weight and appetite, and so that's where my focus was on is try to figure out those pathways and see whether they were involved.

And luckily I stumbled upon the BrightFocus Fast Track to Alzheimer's disease where they train really any kind of the upcoming early-career students and even junior faculty members like myself to really train themselves to figure out what's the latest in Alzheimer's disease research. So that's where I got my first start , and I really started developing a passion and I really enjoyed that training and then I was fortunate actually to get a grant soon afterwards. So I got my first BrightFocus grant soon afterwards and then I would launch my lab at that time with the BrightFocus Foundation.

My first BrightFocus grant really enabled me to start you know transitioning from being a student mentee under a senior faculty member to really being able to pursue my own independent research lab. And so that could be as small as really just helping to support my salary, but also being able to hire you know lab members to work on the projects and really it also gave confidence to the rest of my colleagues and my senior faculty members to help me get my first promotion to be an assistant professor at Cornell.

So they actually cited a BrightFocus Foundation support as one evidence of you know success early on. BrightFocus takes a chance, takes a chance on the young you know or the early-stage career investigators who might have a bright idea or haven't really exciting research, but may not have the track record just yet, and so really to give the opportunity for those investigators, like myself, to start developing the track record so we can be competitive for some of these other grants is really instrumental and really helps launch a lot of careers, I think, including myself. I think we all have this common shared interest of we really want to make a difference, and we know it might not happen today or tomorrow, but by funding these early you know research we can make a difference in medications we have, provide just some symptomatic relief, but doesn't really last very long, and so being able to do this will completely change my practice you know obviously for the patients, but also for the family side, you know to give them you know that idea the hope that we can actually make a difference. And even if we don't come up with an immediate cure, even able to preserve the memory, preserve their personalities for as long as possible.

That I think is still a huge win — we don't have that right now. I think we're very close and that's why I have hope and I convey that hope to my patients and so they understand that you know the research is important. They understand when I don't call back immediately if I'm in the lab because they know that I'm working in a lab hopefully to come up with some of these new therapeutic interventions, and so that's what I really want — that's what drives me and I think that's what helps drive the patients too is that they know that people like me and like others, many countless others, and entities like BrightFocus are helping to fund this kind of research.

This content was first posted on: June 18, 2020
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