Accelerating the Path to a Cure: BrightFocus Alzheimer’s Fast Track

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Alzheimer's Fast Track participants having a discussion while sitting a circular table.

BrightFocus is once again in the middle of leading Alzheimer’s Fast Track, a several day incubator for some of the world’s most promising early career researchers.  By encouraging and supporting these women and men, BrightFocus hopes to accelerate the path to a cure for the disease. Alzheimer’s Fast Track, once biennial, is now held annually, a reflection of both demand for the program and the sense of urgency to get to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

 “Thanks to the generosity of BrightFocus donors, we provide a master-class for early-career scientists wishing to pursue a career in Alzheimer’s and related dementias,” said Diane Bovenkamp, PhD, BrightFocus Vice President of Scientific Affairs and an Alzheimer’s Fast Track co-chair. “This can bring exponential rewards in terms of incubating new ideas, encouraging collaboration, and equipping the field’s rising talent with the skills they need to succeed faster.”

That’s Why They Call it “Immersive”

Alzheimer’s Fast Track is aimed at graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and other early-career scientists focused on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.   A group, whose size averages around 60, spends three days hearing from expert researchers and clinicians who provide a broad, interdisciplinary overview of the current state of Alzheimer’s research – advances in our current understanding of the disease; where knowledge gaps still exist; potential new treatments; and what’s required to get to the next stage.

The ratio of participants to senior scientists is about 4:1, and most faculty members stay around for the entire three days, interacting with students at breaks and mealtimes.  Workshop faculty often speak enthusiastically about the experience, and say they, too, benefit from the “cross pollination” of different disciplines and areas of expertise.  “I knew it would be a worthwhile experience. What I wasn’t expecting was to learn so much!,” commented Subhojit Roy, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), following last year’s workshop, and who is a repeat expert speaker this year. 

Interspersed with lectures is hands-on training in grant writing, presentation skills, and career development – everything from “elevator speeches,” to avoiding early research pitfalls.  To further refine their critical thinking and grant writing skills, attendees are assigned to teams and asked to formulate a joint research question and write a mock grant proposal, all of which are reviewed and competitively judged at Alzheimer’s Fast Track’s end.

After engaging at this level over three days, attendees are better equipped to succeed in the Alzheimer’s field.  Alzheimer's Fast Track equips them with new knowledge, needed skills, and a network of friends, mentors, and potential collaborators.

Needed Now More than Ever: Interdisciplinary Collaboration

In the Alzheimer’s field, “we need to encourage innovative thinking, new challenges, and the best ideas,” says Harry Steinbusch, PhD of Maastricht University, who co-chairs this year’s Alzheimer's Fast Track along Dr. Bovenkamp, Frank LaFerla, PhD of the University of California, Irvine, and Cynthia Lemere, PhD, of Harvard Medical School.


Alzheimer's Fast Track Co-Chairs (left to right) - Harry Steinbusch, PhD, Cynthia Lemere, PhD, Diane Bovenkamp, PhD, and Frank LaFerla, PhD
Alzheimer's Fast Track Co-chairs (left to right) - Harry Steinbusch, PhD, Cynthia Lemere, PhD, Diane Bovenkamp, PhD, and Frank LaFerla, PhD

Alzheimer's Fast Track is particularly well-suited to a field that continues to grow in its diversified approaches to the disease.  The broad array of faculty and students at Fast Track reflects the belief that there are multiple ways to slow the disease in its different stages and forms. 

Given what we’re learning about the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease, and the many different forms it can take, it’s more important than ever to put a diverse group of motivated researchers on the road to discovering cures,” Dr. Bovenkamp said, who noted that Fast Track brings together scientists from a cross-section of disciplines and encourages building broad, collaborative projects that draw on multiple sources of expertise from around the world.

Alzheimer's Fast Track is helping to set the stage for the research of the future, accelerating the work of a highly promising group of scientists who are ready to tackle one of science’s most complex diseases,” Dr. Bovenkamp said.

[View a list of speakers at the 2019 Alzheimer’s Fast Track Workshop.]

Watch this video from BrightFocus Alzheimer’s Fast Track® 2016