University Scholar Mary Jo LaDu
The University Scholars Program, now in its 34th year, honors faculty members for superior research and teaching, along with great promise for future achievements. The award provides $15,000 a year for three years.
Years at UIC: 14
What are your research interests?
Our lab developed a novel Alzheimer’s disease (AD) transgenic mouse that mimics the genetics and pathology of the human disease by expressing both the human amyloid-b peptide (Ab) and the human apolipoprotein E/APOE genotypes (the EFAD mice). As the APOE4 genotype is the greatest genetic risk factor for AD, increasing risk up to 15-fold compared to the common APOE3 genotype, this mouse model allows for study of the interactions between Ab and the different, naturally occurring APOE genotypes. Importantly, recent re-interpretation of decades of human studies suggests that the APOE4-induced risk is driven by females, introducing an important new component to the mechanistic hypothesis. Currently, the lab uses the EFAD mice primarily: 1) to understand the mechanisms underlying the significant increased risk for AD in females carrying the APOE4 gene; and 2) as a preclinical model for testing potential pharmaceutical interventions for AD.
How did you become interested in these topics?
After receiving my Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine (UIC-COM), I continued training as a post-doc and junior faculty at the University of Chicago studying the role of apolipoprotein E in cardiovascular disease. In 1993, the greatest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was identified as the e4 allele of the APOE gene. I have been studying APOE4 in the brain since then.
What do you teach?
As a basic scientist in the COM, I run a large NIH- and pharma-funded lab focusing on treatments and biomarkers for AD. I teach mainly in graduate and medical school courses on topics related to neurodegeneration. I see my main role, and my passion, as a mentor to young scientists, undergraduates and junior faculty.
How do you balance teaching and research?
My major time management challenge is balancing research with University service. I feel UIC has a very special mission to reach out to diverse populations, and that is something I value and cherish, and want to build upon. Whether you are a researcher or a clinician, I believe you choose to be a part of UIC because of this mission and because these are the students, patients, and communities you want to serve. Thus, I am very committed to serving UIC in any way my expertise allows. This has included membership in the University Senate Conference, Faculty Senate Executive Committee, VCHA and VHI Faculty Advisory Committee, VCR and Dean COM Dean search committees, COM Executive Committee, UIC-CBC representative, and chair of my department search and PT committees.
What’s your advice to students who want to focus their future careers on research?
My advice is not original:
“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” -Mark Twain
Quite simply, UIC is my home. Not just because I occasionally sleep here during really tight grant deadlines, but because I love my job and I believe in UIC’s mission.