Local scientist Dr. Laura Heath presenting at AAIC 2019

Laura_Heath_headshotDr. Laura Heath is a research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in Seattle, a nonprofit research institution studying biological systems that integrate all aspects of health and disease. This week, she is at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Los Angeles. Dr. Heath attended AAIC 2016 in Toronto, where she gave an oral presentation on her dissertation research. Dr. Heath said she had a great experience and was happy to return in 2018 and again this year.

While at AAIC 2019, Dr. Heath will be hosting a poster presentation about her work on genetic risk variants for Alzheimer’s disease in a poster presentation. Here’s more about her research:

“At ISB, I have access to a novel data set from a wellness company called Arivale, which collected detailed demographic and health history information from their clients as part of their health coaching program. They also drew blood from their clients as a way to report back markers of health over time, similar to the lab results you receive from the doctor. Some clients consented to anonymously share other blood-derived data, including whole genomes, proteomics, and metabolomics, to be used for research by ISB. This information was collected from almost 3,000 relatively healthy individuals of all ages 

It has allowed me to investigate any associations that may exist between genetic risk variants for Alzheimer’s disease and other biomarkers found in blood. Importantly, I wanted to see when differences became apparent over time. By examining how genetic risk for Alzheimer’s manifests in the blood across the adult lifespan, my work complements existing functional genomics studies that, so far, have been largely focused on older populations. In the future, we can hopefully use all of this information to determine early (and potentially intervenable) pathways to the disease.”

Dr. Heath was inspired to be a researcher in this field because, “I think any research having to do with the brain is inherently interesting!” she said. “But more than that, it’s become apparent that the idea of having memory and cognition problems as we age is really frightening for most people, including me. Also, there are still so many unanswered questions about Alzheimer’s and dementia and research, which made this a particularly exciting field to jump into during graduate school. I hope my research will contribute to preventing these scary outcomes, and I am pleased to have a career in this fascinating field.”

She has personal ties to dementia. Both her maternal and paternal grandmothers had vascular dementia, and she was exposed to the challenges that both her grandmas and whole family faced, struggling to accommodate what she calls “a debilitating disease that didn’t leave much hope for improvement.” Dr. Heath said, “I am optimistic that we will soon have the tools to prevent or significantly delay Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by ameliorating risk in early and mid-life, thus sparing individuals and their families from the painful effects of this disease. “

AAIC is important, according to Dr. Heath, because, “It’s a chance to catch up on the latest innovations and to dive deep into my specific areas of interest.” She always feels like she comes home with new ideas and knowledge. Dr. Heath enjoys presenting, and meeting up with new and existing research collaborators from all over the world. “Giving the scientific community a space to congregate, mix and share their research is invaluable for everyone, from junior scientists to established investigators.”

About AAIC

The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® is the largest and most influential international meeting dedicated to advancing dementia science. Each year, AAIC® convenes the world’s leading basic science and clinical researchers, next-generation investigators, clinicians and the care research community to share research discoveries that’ll lead to methods of prevention and treatment and improvements in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 

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