The sense of smell may provide important clues to help identify patients with neurodegenerative diseases before their symptoms emerge. Mark Albers uses the olfactory system of mice and humans to help understand the early events of neurodegeneration in order to find ways to intervene early in the disease process before symptoms appear and distinguish early pathologic events from changes produced by aging. His lab combines molecular biological, anatomical, physiological, imaging,and behavioral techniques to learn about genes associated with neurodegenerative disease. They have made transgenic mice expressing genes associated with Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases in neurons exclusively involved in olfaction. The mouse olfactory neural circuit is arguably the best understood circuit in the mammalian brain. In addition, they used the same experimental approaches to elucidate the normal roles of genes implicated in neurodegenerative disease. Surreptitiously, a novel neuroprotective strategy for axonal injury, such as traumatic brain injury, has emerged from these studies, which is currently under development. In human studies, odor-naming difficulty is a strong indicator predicting the development of Alzheimer’s in a person with mild memory complaints. We have developed new odor naming and odor memory tests to identify clinically normal people with an increased risk of developing symptoms of neurodegenerative disease.
Mark Albers earned a PhD in organic chemistry from Harvard University, working in the laboratory of Stuart Schreiber, and an MD degree from the H.S.T. program of Harvard Medical School and M.I.T. He was an internal medicine resident for two years at Massachusetts General Hospital and then trained in neurology at Mass General, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he was one of the first chief residents for the Partners neurology residency program. Following clinical training, he resumed basic research studies in the laboratory of Richard Axel and trained in behavioral neurology at Columbia University. Following this training, he returned to Mass General where he sees outpatients in the Memory Disorders Unit and attends on the inpatient neurologic wards. He is a recipient of the prestigious NIH New Innovator’s Award and is a member of the Translational Neuroscience committee of the American Academy of Neurology. He was named the inaugural incumbent of the Frank Wilkens Jr. and Family Endowed Chair for Alzheimer’s Disease Research.