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April 3, 2009

Researcher, Mentor Works to Slow Scourge of Alzheimer’s

Theresa Good, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, works to slow the toll of Alzheimer’s, one of the world’s most devastating illnesses. Her peers recently voted her as among the most talented in her field, electing Good as a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).

The Rochester, NY native came to UMBC from Texas A&M in 2002. A former Peace Corps volunteer who taught biology and chemistry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Good has always been drawn to real-world challenges.

About 10 percent of the population over age 60 and 50 percent of those over age 80 develop Alzheimer’s. The progressive, fatal disease causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

Good’s lab specializes in a protein found in senile plaques, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s in the brain.  Senile plaques are large globs of protein that grow to about the same size as brain cells.

Good is grateful for the AIMBE recognition, but says that her true passion is working with undergraduate and graduate students and helping them to develop into researchers.

“I’m pleased that my colleagues recognize my contributions, but to be honest, the GSA mentor award (Good won the Donald Creighton Memorial Faculty Award for Graduate Student Mentoring in 2007) meant a lot more. 

I like to teach undergraduates at UMBC; they’re talented, they’re funny and every day is different. It’s wonderful to be recognized for producing useful research, but another thing I help to produce is people.”

“Theresa is a tremendous role model to her students and will go to any length to ensure that they are both growing intellectually and succeeding in their efforts,” said Julia Ross, professor and chair of chemical and biochemical engineering.

Good and her colleagues study beta amyloid protein (BAP) as a target for potential new Alzheimer’s drugs. A buildup of BAP in the brain is linked to most forms of the disease, including early-onset Alzheimer’s, impacting some patients as early as in their 40’s. 

Alzheimer’s is an especially challenging adversary since it is difficult to diagnose in the early stages. “The brain is redundant; people compensate for memory loss until the damage to brain cells reaches the catastrophic stage,” said Good. Her lab is examining if fluorescent or metal nano-molecules can be used as tools for earlier diagnoses.

According to Good, there is room for cautious optimism for Alzheimer’s research and possible new therapies. “I think there will be something in clinical trials in the next five years to help prevent further neural damage, but it won’t be perfect,” she said.

(4/3/2009)

Posted by crose at April 3, 2009 1:45 PM