Dr. Rachel Bennett, from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, talks about her BrightFocus-funded research on tau, a key player in Alzheimer’s disease, and it leads to blood vessel changes in the brain.
INTERVIEWER: We’re here live with Rachel Bennett. Could you tell us more about where you’re from and a little bit more about your research project?
RACHEL BENNETT: My name is Rachel Bennett. I work at Massachusetts General Hospital under the mentorship of Dr. Bradley Hyman, who’s one of the early investigators in understanding changes that take place in Alzheimer’s disease. My project in the lab focuses on changes related to blood vessels. Blood vessels are very important when it comes to delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain. We look at how Alzheimer’s disease proteins affect blood vessel function and ultimately help to contribute to cognitive decline.
INTERVIEWER: What do you hope your research is able to achieve?
RACHEL BENNETT: What we have achieved is a more expanded understanding of the role of tau in Alzheimer’s disease outside of its traditional role in neurons, and this has really expanded our list of potential therapeutic targets. And so ultimately what I hope is that that’s going to lead us to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. That’s really what everyone in my lab hopes for.
INTERVIEWER: What inspired you to become a researcher?
RACHEL BENNETT: When I was in high school, my class took a field trip to a local brain tank, and this was a tissue repository for tissue donation to science. The researcher there took us around and he showed us all the really high-tech gadgets and tools that they had at their disposal, and at the end he brought us to a room that had a simple microscope and a piece of tissue on a slide. On that slide he told us there was a piece of temporal cortex that had been stained to reveal the presence of amyloid beta plaques, which is a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease. That was really my “aha” moment. I’ve just been focused on this because that process of making visible these invisible changes that are occurring in our brain and being able to explain the disease process was just something that I was fascinated by and something that I continue to be fascinated by.
INTERVIEWER: What message would you like to share about the importance of scientific research?
RACHEL BENNETT: Scientific research is important—not just scientific research, but scientific research in Alzheimer’s disease—because there’s 5.7 million people in the United States alone who are affected by Alzheimer’s, and that means that all of us have a friend or a family member who’s personally affected by the disease. I think it’s our duty to use, really, every tool in our tool box—and one of those is science—to help understand the disease processes so that we can prevent, slow, or cure Alzheimer’s.
INTERVIEWER: Would you like to say anything to our donors who might be watching this interview right now?
RACHEL BENNETT: Oh, absolutely! I’d like to say thank you for your generous support. You help young investigators like me to really jump-start our career and pursue these new lines of investigation and give us the tools and resources to be successful.
INTERVIEWER: What excites you most about current trends around your area of research?
RACHEL BENNETT: When we think of the brain, we think of neurons—they’re really that functional cell in the brain—and they make up only about half of the total cells of the brain. And so more and more we’re seeing more researchers start to focus their studies on other cell types and how Alzheimer’s disease proteins affect these other cell types. I think it’s leading to a lot of really exciting new hypotheses and approaches to treatment of Alzheimer’s.
INTERVIEWER: What is something people may not know about working as a researcher?
RACHEL BENNETT: It’s a good question. I think people might not realize that science communication is a formal part of our training these days, and that if you happen to have a friend or know someone or cross paths with a scientist, we’re really excited to tell you about what we’re doing—and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
INTERVIEWER: How do you describe your technical research to your family and friends?
RACHEL BENNETT: I tell them that every day I go into a job that I love, and I get to work with some of the best Alzheimer’s researchers in the field and use some really powerful state-of-the-art microscopes to visualize changes that are occurring within the cells of the brain and learn more about disease processes.
INTERVIEWER: Great. Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk to us about your research. And to all of our viewers out there, we will be back in a few minutes with another behind-the-scenes look at the research that we’re funding.* Thanks again.
RACHEL BENNETT: Great. Thank you.
* Dr. Bennet's interview was one of several Facebook Live interviews recorded on June 6, 2018.
This content was last updated on: July 24, 2018