Gary Grajales-Reyes, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of pathology & immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has received an Early Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award supports outstanding junior scientists with the intellect, scientific creativity, drive, and maturity to bypass or shorten the traditional postdoctoral training period to launch independent research careers. Grajales-Reyes plans to work on developing novel and cost-effective cell-based therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.
Grajales-Reyes received one of 103 awards granted by the NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward program. The program aims to spur scientific innovation and discovery by providing support for outstanding scientists to pursue potentially transformative but risky research projects. The 103 awards total about $285 million in support over five years, beginning in 2022, pending the availability of funds.
As a member of the Clinical Pathology Physician Scientist Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the School of Medicine, Grajales-Reyes conducted postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Marco Colonna, MD, the Robert Rock Belliveau, MD, Professor of Pathology. His work focused on developing a novel treatment for Alzheimer’s disease based on using so-called chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) to reprogram immune cells to remove toxic clumps of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta from the brain.
With the support of this award, Grajales-Reyes plans to use CAR-based approaches to reduce amyloid plaques in the brains of people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, thereby halting the disease’s progression and forestalling dementia. Preliminary data suggests that CAR-based approaches could provide a lasting reduction in amyloid plaques without requiring frequent repeat administration of the therapy. His approach has the potential to transform the treatment of Alzheimer’s and possibly other brain diseases characterized by protein aggregation.