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Scholar examining brain aging and related diseases

Dr. Kendra Furber

Dr. Kendra Furber, an assistant professor with the UBC Northern Medical Program at the University of Northern British Columbia, has been named a 2021 Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) Scholar for her research that focuses on studying myelination in the central nervous system.

Furber is one of 32 health researchers across B.C. to receive the award. Funded by the province, MSFHR is B.C.’s health research funding agency and its Scholar Program helps support researchers who are in the early stages of their career as they work to develop their health research programs and build their research teams.

“This funding will be key to not only allow me to grow my research program, but also for continuing to build capacity for biomedical research and facilitate collaborations across different health research disciplines in northern B.C.,” says Furber, who joined the Northern Medical Program in 2019. “My research is aimed at understanding the biology of the myelin sheath in the brain, providing insights on how to prevent damage or promote repair under pathological conditions.

“I am also interested in the impact of aging on myelination, as many neurodegenerative conditions occur at later life stages.”

“I have always been fascinated by the complexity of the human body – particularly, the brain! There is still so much that we do not understand about how the brain functions,” notes Furber. “The cells that produce the myelin sheath are really fascinating. I believe that understanding how our brains work at the molecular levels is critical for developing targeted treatments for neurodegenerative disorders.”

The myelin sheath, produced by cells called oligodendrocytes, surrounds nerves in a fatty, insulating layer that is important for proper transmission of nerve signals. The myelin sheath is damaged in many neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. Investigating the underlying biological processes may potentially lead to novel strategies for promoting repair mechanisms in the brain.

The MSFHR Scholar award, worth $90,000 a year for five years, will help support training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at UNBC, as well as UBC medical undergraduate students, who will work under Furber’s supervision in all aspects of her research.

“I want to understand how groups of biomolecules function together as ‘molecular machines’ to guide cell development, specifically the development of oligodendrocytes, at a fundamental level and investigate the role of select biomolecules in experimental models of disease.

“The goal then would be to use this knowledge to develop novel, targeted therapeutic strategies to combat neuro-degeneration in the context of aging. Ultimately, my hope is that this research will improve the health and quality of life for those living with neurological disorders.”

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