Alexandra Grubman: Focusing Brain Power on Alzheimer’s Disease
Dr Alexandra Grubman, a NHMRC-ARC Dementia Postdoctoral Fellow at ARMI, knows all too well the complexity of the brain. Working alongside the rest of her dedicated colleagues within the Polo Group, Alex is determined to unravel the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease – and it’s no easy challenge.
The Polo Group, headed by Professor Jose Polo, focuses on delineating the transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms that govern cell identity and cell fate. Working with a large team that includes Alex, the Polo Group aims to understand and manipulate a cell’s identity to reprogram any cell into any other, which Alex aims to use to reprogram a diseased cell into a healthy one. For Alex, her research harnesses the team’s unique knowledge base, skill set and technical expertise to better understand the progressive disease, Alzheimer’s, which results in the degradation of the connections between brain cells.
“We’ve known about the disease [Alzheimer’s] for a long time, yet we still can’t cure it,” commented Alex. “However, what we do know is that there are important cells in addition to neurons that play a part in the development of synapses in the brain that help us form memories, such as the cousins of white blood cells in the brain, microglia, and these tend to go haywire in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. My research focuses on the how to identify the function of these microglia groups and how they affect the brain. We hope that one day, research like this will allow us to manipulate the brain and to disrupt the development and progression of Alzheimer’s, which could become a potential treatment for the disease in the future.”
Born in the Ukraine, Alex moved to Australia with her parents as a young girl with dreams of becoming an astronomer, and then a marine biologist, and then a molecular biologist. With an innate fascination with how the world works, Alex decided to pursue a biology course in her first year of university – and she absolutely loved it.
It wasn’t long before she undertook a PhD in bacteriology, which later evolved into diving into postdoctoral research in brain development at the University of Melbourne. This, in turn, led her straight to ARMI, where Alex was drawn by one of Jose Polo’s research papers. After emailing Jose her ideas for follow-up experiments and further research questions, they scheduled a time to meet up. With such passion, insightful analysis and initiative shown, she joined Jose’s group at ARMI shortly after.
Alex has been at ARMI ever since and loves the environment of the institute. “The pace of our work here is faster than I’ve ever experienced, which is obviously exhilarating and rewarding,” says Alex. She also revels in the opportunity to be surrounded by passionate, brilliant people who bounce off each other’s excitement and to work with overseas collaborators. Despite the demands of her research, Alex always makes time for hobbies outside of the laboratory, which includes rock climbing, skiing (when she can), travelling and enjoying the many great music festivals across the country.
When it comes to the future, Alex has high hopes for her research, knowing the strength of the broader Australian research ecosystem. “This is a great place to be for Alzheimer’s research,” commented Alex. “Our government is investing in the research and many scientists are taking multi-disciplined approaches, which shows the breadth and depth of Australian research, but also an acknowledgement of how important a holistic, big-picture approach is. Australia is also strong with access to patient cohorts and data. As a scientist, I am trained to be skeptical, but I’m hopeful.”
For more information on Alexandra Grubman and the Polo Group at ARMI, please visit the Polo Group page. You can contact Alex via firstname.lastname@example.org