Michela Gallagher, University of Vermont Graduate College 1977, has dedicated her professional life to researching and advancing the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience. The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation considers Professor Gallagher’s groundbreaking research that has led to a late stage clinical trial to be the most promising program in their portfolio of drug development, describing her work in developing new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease as “closing in on a cure.”
One of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease has situated itself both as a looming presence in the modern psyche and as a random and seemingly unavoidable effect of aging. Characterized by the rapid decline in cognitive function—and by the lack of a definitive cause and cure—it is a disease that many are touched by, directly and indirectly.
Currently, Professor Gallagher leads a diverse team of scientists spanning both basic research and clinical studies to understand the underlying brain changes that occur with memory loss. Her work has focused on differences between normal brain aging and the progressive neurodegenerative condition of Alzheimer’s disease. This work has led to a Phase 3 trial, which is the last phase of clinical development under FDA guidance. The initial patient enrollment in this trial was announced in January 2019. Professor Gallagher’s therapeutic approach is to treat a condition that is transitional from normal aging to a clinical diagnosis of early dementia. By treating patients in this phase of high risk, referred to as “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI), the study is designed to track progression in participants to determine whether treatment will prevent dementia. The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation calls the study, named HOPE4MCI, the most advanced of its kind, filling “an enormous unmet clinical need.”
For her work, Professor Gallagher has been awarded the Melvin R. Goodes Prize for Alzheimer’s Research, which has been hailed as the first award to specifically recognize scientists pursuing innovative drug-discovery research for Alzheimer’s disease.
The groundbreaking potential of her team finding a cure to Alzheimer’s disease is a capstone in a lifetime of incredible achievements. In 1969, Professor Gallagher graduated as one of only two women in Colgate University’s first class to include women. In 1977, she received her PhD in Physiological Psychology from the University of Vermont. Professor Gallagher taught at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill for 17 years before joining Johns Hopkins University, where she has been teaching and researching for the last 20 years. She served as chair of the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychological and Brain Science, and also served for four years as Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and Faculty for the University. She is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Director of the Neurogenetics and Behavior Center at Johns Hopkins.
Professor Gallagher’s 40 years of scientific work have made her a leader in the realm of brain studies: she specializes in understanding the neurobiology of learning, memory, and the aging brain. In 2008 she founded AgeneBio, a company that specializes in drug discovery and development, conducting clinical trials under FDA registration with the goal of commercializing novel therapeutics. She now serves as a scientific advisor and holds a position on the company’s board of directors.
HOPE4MCI is a potential crack in the glass ceiling of Alzheimer’s disease treatment, proof of Professor Gallagher’s diligence and accomplishments as a scientist and researcher. She is also widely recognized as a superior mentor. In her devotion to education, she is training the next generation of scientists, sparking their passion for studying the brain and helping guide them to their full potential. Thus far in her career, she has mentored nearly 50 pre- and post-doctoral scientists, who themselves are now influencing academia and industry. For her efforts in actively promoting the professional advancement of her mentees, in 2014 Professor Gallagher was awarded the Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society for Neuroscience.
Professor Michela Gallagher’s devotion to understanding the mechanisms of disease and healing in human neuroscience are bringing us closer to an intervention for Alzheimer’s disease, potentially affecting the well-being of millions around the world. Her steadfast focus and promising breakthroughs offer hope to humanity for changing the course of one of the most prevalent and devastating neurological conditions of our time.