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MIT PhD Student Uncovers New Techniques For Alzheimer’s Disease on the Brain

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Mitch Murdock, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has used new technology and fundamental biological techniques to study the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain. 

Murdock’s Impetus To the Studies 

Murdock was a rare science-humanities double major specializing in both English and molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale University during his undergraduate years. At that time, he worked in a conventional molecular biology lab. After graduation, Murdock had intended to remain there as a research technician; thankfully, he claims that his advisor Ron Breaker urged him to look into the profession. 

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That’s how he ended up in a new lab run by Conor Liston, an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, who studies how factors such as stress and sleep regulate the modeling of brain circuits. Murdock first encountered neuroscience in Liston’s lab, where he also started to see the brain as the biological underpinning of his interest in the philosophical issues surrounding experience and emotion.

“It was really in his lab where I thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool. I have to do a PhD studying neuroscience,” Murdock said.

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As a research technician, Murdock looked at how prolonged stress affected mouse brain activity. He was particularly interested in ketamine, a fast-acting antidepressant that is prone to abuse, in the hopes that a greater knowledge of how it functions may aid scientists in developing safer substitutes.

He concentrated on dendritic spines, which are tiny organelles linked to neurons that aid in electrical signal transmission and serve as the structural foundation for memory storage. According to Murdock’s research, ketamine restores dendritic spines that may have been destroyed as a result of extended durations of chronic stress.

Murdock’s Ph.D. Journey on Brain Alzheimer’s Disease

Murdock chose to pursue Ph.D. studies in neuroscience after spending three years at Weill Cornell to carry on some of the work he began with Liston. He chose MIT because Elly Nedivi, William R. (1964), and Linda R. Young, Professor of Neuroscience at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, were conducting dendritic spine research there.

But once more, the chance to delve into a larger range of interests unintentionally introduced Murdock to a fresh obsession. Murdock spent time observing a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital who treated patients with Alzheimer’s disease during lab rotations at the start of his PhD degree.

“Everyone knows that Alzheimer’s doesn’t have a cure. But I realized that, really, if you have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s very little that can be done,” he says. 

Following that encounter, Murdock carefully arranged the rest of his lab experiences before finally choosing to work in the laboratory of Li-Huei Tsai, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience and the head of the Picower Institute. Murdock and Tsai have collaborated on numerous lines of Alzheimer’s research during the past five years.

Murdock’s New Techniques To Alzheimer’s Disease on the Brain

Murdock works with Ed Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology, a professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, to examine the brain in the level of detail that approach necessitates. 

Murdock’s collaboration with Boyden has enabled him to utilize cutting-edge tools for his study, including expansion microscopy and genetically encoded sensors.

That kind of new technology, he adds, has helped blow the field wide open. “This is such a cool time to be a neuroscientist because the tools available now make this a golden era to study the brain.” It also relates to the study of Alzheimer’s, particularly recently discovered links between the immune system and the disease, a field in which Murdock says he intends to pursue more research after graduating.

At the moment, Murdock is concentrating on a review paper that compiles some of the most recent research. He acknowledges that combining all the data is a little “crazy” given the mounds of new Alzheimer’s research published yearly, but he couldn’t be happier to be in the thick of it. “There’s just so much that we are learning about the brain from these new techniques, and it’s just so exciting,” he maintained.

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