Paula Grammas, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Rhode Island, was inducted into the American Association for the Advancement of Science Circle of Fellows for her pioneering Alzheimer’s research.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) inducted Grammas, the executive director of the George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at URI, into their prestigious Circle of Fellows, something that is only granted to a select number of research scientists each year. The AAAS’ goal is to strengthen and diversify the science and technology workforce, as well as promote and defend the integrity of science and its use. It is the world’s largest scientific society and has members from over 91 countries around the world.

“I think the award is a recognition of the work we have done over the years, which is rewarding,” Grammas said. “We’ve worked in this field for a long time and taken sort of a contrary view of what research has gone on. I think it validates our scientific approach.”

Grammas has been working with the brain for 30 years. Research about Alzheimer’s disease entered her life around the same time, as the first laboratory Grammas worked in allowed her to examine the way high blood pressure and blood vessels function in the brain.

For the past several decades, most research into potential therapies for Alzheimer’s disease have focused on the plaques and tangles of beta-amyloid protein in the brain. As the plaques and tangles build up and grow, significant nerve cell death occurs. Grammas takes a different approach with her research, looking at the way the plaques and tangles affect the blood vessels. She was among the first to explore this alternative path.

“With Alzheimer’s disease, the nerve cells die. That’s the basic underlying pathology,” Grammas said. “The question has been why that happens.”

Grammas’ research looks at Alzheimer’s as a group of diseases rather than a single disease, with one common end result being nerve cell death. However, the brain is a highly vascularized region of the body with over 400 miles of blood vessels, leading Grammas to research how the vessels become altered.

“We said we should be looking at blood vessels in the brain and Alzheimer’s disease because they may contribute in some way to this ultimate nerve cell death,” Grammas said. “We’ve looked to see how the blood vessels are biochemically different. In Alzheimer’s disease, the blood vessels in the brain make a series of proteins that are noxious for neurons. We think that this change in the blood vessels that produce all these bad things directly kill neurons and may be part of what’s driving that disease.”

Grammas plans to continue her research toward the development of therapies for the prevention, and ultimately cure, of Alzheimer’s disease.