BrightFocus Education, Networking Program Trains Early-Career Researchers in Alzheimer’s Disease Research

Julia Roth, BrightFocus Foundation
  • Press Release
Published on:
Alzheimer’s Fast Track students receive feedback on their mock grant proposal from Laura Cox, PhD while sitting at a round table with laptops open.
BrightFocus Alzheimer’s Fast Track students receive feedback on their mock grant proposal from Laura Cox, PhD, assistant professor in the department of neurology at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one of the program’s speakers.

Program has ‘fed the field’ for 20+ years by investing in the next generation of talented scientists.

The search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is a complex, multigenerational effort. As seasoned researchers retire or exit the field, we need new scientists who are trained in the latest science ready to step in. Another challenge—scientists need funding to test their great ideas and get them off the ground.  

That’s why BrightFocus offers Alzheimer’s Fast Track, an immersive learning opportunity for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other early-career scientists focused on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias to accelerate their knowledge and expertise in this emerging field.  

BrightFocus has offered career-shaping educational opportunities for Alzheimer’s researchers for over two decades in Europe and the U.S. 

More than 75 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other early-career scientists from 18 states, Canada, Hong Kong, and South Korea participated in this year’s BrightFocus Alzheimer’s Fast Track, Nov. 9-11, 2022, in San Diego, which was an official pre-meeting of the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting. 

This year’s program included interactive presentations from leading Alzheimer’s scientists and small-group discussions on some of the most exciting areas of Alzheimer’s research, including aging, immunity and inflammation, diagnostics, and drug development. Speakers explored such topics as sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, sex differences in risk and resilience to Alzheimer’s disease, the influence of the gut microbiome on Alzheimer’s disease, and the benefits of studying eyes and brains to uncover common mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases. 

In addition to receiving a solid overview of the science, the program emphasized another key skill for researchers—securing grant funding for their Alzheimer’s disease research projects. Students received training in writing grant proposals and lessons in public speaking and professional skills for scientists, including how to present themselves and their research, with mentorship from speakers. The program culminated in a friendly competition where students worked in small groups to present a mock grant proposal to a review panel, who followed up with questions and ultimately voted on the best grant proposal to award $300,000 in mock funding.  

“We need to encourage early-career scientists to apply for funding, and this event trains them how to do so,” said Harry W.M. Steinbusch, PhD, professor in cellular and translational neuroscience at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. 

Dr. Steinbusch co-chaired this year’s event with Frank LaFerla, PhD, dean of the School of Biological Sciences and Chancellor’s Professor in the department of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine; Cynthia Lemere, PhD, associate professor of neurology in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School; and Sharyn Rossi, PhD, director of scientific programs, neuroscience, at BrightFocus Foundation. Nearly 30 speakers shared their expertise and passion for Alzheimer’s disease research. 

“The lineup of distinguished speakers was strategically chosen to highlight the current state of the science—from basic to clinical research—while providing discussion points for unmet needs and challenges in the field,” said Dr. Rossi, who, together with Diane Bovenkamp, PhD, vice president, scientific affairs at BrightFocus, helped organize and lead this year’s event.  

Since inception, Alzheimer’s Fast Track has trained nearly 400 scientists from more than 25 countries. A range of participants attend—from undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows to assistant and full professors—to accelerate their knowledge at the outset of their careers, network with peers, and transition from one area of expertise into the sphere of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia research.  

To increase access to educational programs like Alzheimer’s Fast Track, BrightFocus offers travel fellowships for scientists, including those from groups that are underrepresented in the field. Twenty-four participants received travel grants for this year’s program. 

Students say Alzheimer’s Fast Track was a unique opportunity to closely interact with and receive feedback from industry-leading researchers and collaborate with their peers. They also say the program reaffirmed their dedication to a career in Alzheimer’s research.  

BrightFocus encourages program alumni to apply for funding from its Alzheimer’s Disease Research program; many Fast Track participants have gone on to receive BrightFocus grant funding for their research projects. Learn more about Alzheimer’s Fast Track. 

About BrightFocus Foundation

BrightFocus Foundation is a premier nonprofit funder of research to defeat Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Through its flagship research programs—Alzheimer’s Disease Research, National Glaucoma Research, and Macular Degeneration Research—the Foundation is currently supporting a $75 million portfolio of 287 scientific projects. BrightFocus has awarded nearly $275 million in groundbreaking medical research funding since inception and shares the latest research findings, expert information, and English/Spanish disease resources to empower the millions impacted by these devastating diseases. Join our community at brightfocus.org.

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