Westlake News ACADEMICS

Westlake University Principal Investigator Selected for BBRF Grant

27, 2020

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Kiryl Piatkevich, principal investigator at Westlake University, has been awarded a grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF) for his basic research on Alzheimer's disease. The Belarus-born researcher conducted his research as a postdoc at MIT in the United States before joining Westlake University in China as an assistant professor at the School of Life Sciences. With his research, Westlake University became the first institution in China to receive a grant from BBRF. 

The World Alzheimer Day on Sept. 21st has raised public awareness that every three second there is one person more who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. In China, the number counts over 10 million patients – 1/4 of the total number worldwide. Without proper treatment, Alzheimer patients' cognition and personality degrade very quickly. "It's really scary," said Piatkevich.

Disappointingly, brain disorders such as Alzheimer remain incurable, with little treatment prospects. "Across all therapeutic areas, the drugs for brain disorders are more expensive to develop and take much longer to bring onto the market with at least twice a higher failure rate in clinical trials compared to other drugs. Since 2003, no US FDA-approved drug that treats or prevents the progression of Alzheimer, has been introduced to the market," Piatkevich pointed out.

Thus, Piatkevich approached this dilemma through a different way than drug development by seeking solutions in neural-immune interactions in neurodegenerative disorders. "Immune response in the brain can be activated via visual stimulation at gamma frequency which improves cognition," Piatkevich explained. 

To verify this mechanism, Piatkevich is developing novel imaging probes that can visualize vasoactive intestinal peptides, which are amino-acid chains in the brain, and chemokine release, which is the release of signaling proteins from brain cells, during and after gamma stimulation. What this basically means, is that Piatkevich is able to reveal signaling pathways that lead to activation of an immune response, which may inspire possible Alzheimer treatments. Piatkevich has been collaborating with Li-Huel Tsai at MIT Picower Institute for Learning and Memory for this project. 

Because this research makes it possible for scientists to kind of see what is going on in the brain, Piatkevich also believes that his new technology can facilitate the entire scientific community and is not just limited to Alzheimer treatments. Indeed, his research was spotted by BBRF, which is an organization supporting pioneering neurobiological and psychiatric research. This year, the scientific council, comprising 181 renowned brain research scientists, selected 150 projects out of 1,012 applications. A fund of over 10 million dollars was awarded to these grantees including Kiryl Piatkevich. 

"BBRF Young Investigators represent a new generation of researchers who will pioneer breakthroughs in mental health research. These grants enable outstanding scientists to pursue bold new ideas to answer important questions or help identify potentially game-changing targets for treatment. The awards function as seed funding for new directions which would otherwise be highly unlikely," said BBRF President Jeffrey Borenstein.