PIA Executive Committee

The Eye as a Biomarker for AD

Chair: Femke Bouwman, MD, PhD

Femke H. Bouwman MD PhD, is a clinical and cognitive neurologist at the Alzheimer Center of the Amsterdam UMC, location VUMC in Amsterdam. She received her MD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 1998, completed her specialist registrar neurology training in The Hague in 2005 and subsequently worked on her thesis at the Alzheimer Center. In 2008, she defended her thesis ‘CSF biomarkers in dementia: Longitudinal aspects and combination with MRI’. She was a general neurologist and staff member of the memory clinic in Catharina Hospital Eindhoven from 2008-2012 and has been working as Neurologist and staff member of Alzheimer Center in Amsterdam from 2012 till now. She has a special interest and (inter)national expertise in the clinical application of AD biomarkers. She reinforced her dedication to biomarkers by initiating projects that aim to yield new AD biomarkers: IREAD (imaging the retina for early diagnosis of AD) and PAGE AD (pathological substrate of clinical variability in AD). She is otherwise involved in many national and international projects in the Alzheimer Center involving Subjective Cognitive Decline, application of AD biomarkers in clinical practice (ABIDE) and other biomarker research including amyloid PET imaging, tau PET imaging and CSF biomarkers. She is initiator and chair of the National Memory clinic Network in the Netherlands. She is chair of the Atypical Alzheimers Disease PIA and she is member of the Scientific Panel Dementia and Cognitive Disorders of the EAN (European Acadamy of Neurology).

Vice Chair: Robert Rissman, PhD
The goal of my research is to investigate the mechanisms underlying neuropathology in various neurodegenerative diseases. The lab was initially focused on Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and understanding how central corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) pathways interplay with peripheral stress signaling and contribute to neuronal vulnerability and AD neuropathology. This work is still ongoing and is now the primary focus on my VA lab. In my UCSD lab we study the mechanistic pathways that link Parkinson's Disease (PD) pathology (e.g. synuclein) to AD in animal models. We are also focused on novel biomarker discovery, both biofluid and retinal-based. Our lab has a large focus on understanding the role of neuronal exosomes and other blood based biomarkers in diagnosing AD and PD. For all our work we use transgenic mice, in vivo pharmacology and human postmortem tissues. 

I am the founding and current Director of the Biomarker Core for the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS). In 2018, the UCSD ADCS NIA grant (1991-2018) mechanism was replaced by the NIA Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials Consortium (ACTC) grant which was ultimately awarded to USC ATRI in San Diego. I established the USC ATRI Biomarker Division/Core in San Diego in 2017 as a stand-alone facility comprised by a wet laboratory and a biospecimen bank. The biospecimen bank team processes blood and CSF samples from patients who participate in ATRI and ACTC trials.

I am the Director of UCSD's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) neuropathology and biomarker cores. The cores collect blood/plasma, DNA, CSF and postmortem brain specimens from participants who are enrolled in UCSD's longitudinal study. Core neuropathologists analyze the tissues and document all relevant pathologies. All tissues and fluid samples are available for requests and collaborations

Programs Chair: Victoria Pelak, MD
Dr. Pelak is a Professor of Neurology and Ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (UCSOM) just outside of Denver, Colorado. She is a Neurologist with a dual subspecialty in Neuro-ophthalmology and Behavioral Neurology, and she previously served as the Co-Director of the Clinical Core at the UCSOM’s Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Her research is focused on the investigation of visual markers of neurodegeneration and cortical visual processing, with a particular interest in the effects of aging and dementia on visual motion processing. She is exploring new methods to diagnose and track cortical visual dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – including both typical and atypical presentations such as Posterior Cortical Atrophy – and other dementias due to Parkinson’s disease dementia and Lewy Body Dementia. Methods of assessment used in her research include OCT, Threshold Visual Field studies, psychophysical testing using immersive virtual reality technology in her Brain and Vision Laboratory and functional MRI techniques at the UCSOM Brain Imaging Center. Dr. Pelak is the Principal Investigator of the Lewy Body Dementia Research Center of Excellence at the University of Colorado. She provides patient care to a wide-range of patients with visual dysfunction due to nervous system impairment and directs the Colorado Posterior Cortical Atrophy Support Group at the University of Colorado, which she founded in 2012.

Communications Chair: Dietmar Thal, MD, PhD
Dietmar R. Thal is neuropathologist and professor for Neuropathology at KU-Leuven (Belgium; since 2015) with his main research focus on Alzheimer's disease. Prior to joining KU Leuven he worked at Ulm University (Germany) as Professor for Neuropathology (2007-2015). His major research interest is the expansion and maturation of protein aggregates in Alzheimer's disease. He discovered phases describing the expansion of amyloid plaque pathology in the human brain. These phases are currently included in the diagnostic criteria for the neuropathological assessment of Alzheimer's disease (known as Thal-Phases). 

 Junior Chair: Jessica Alber, PhD
Jessica Alber completed her Ph.D. in human cognitive neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh in 2015 and her post-doctoral fellowship as part of the Clinical Psychology Training Consortium at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, followed by a year as assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown. She has received numerous awards, including the University of Edinburgh Principal’s Career Development Award and the University of Edinburgh Medal for Academic Distinction. Alber spent the early years of her career conducting neuropsychological assessments in memory clinic and building a foundation in neurodegenerative disease research, with a focus on preclinical biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). During her post-doctoral fellowship, she studied under Stephen Salloway and Peter Snyder, developing expertise in AD clinical trials and biomarkers for the early detection of AD. Alber is currently engaged in clinical research examining potential retinal biomarkers for the detection and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Other projects include examination of the effect of cardiac rehabilitation on long-term cognitive decline, and the effect of the APOE E4 gene on cognitive, lifestyle, and biomarker outcomes in preclinical AD. She has published extensively on the early detection and prevention of AD.

 Junior Chair: Jurre den Haan, MD, PhD
Dr. Jurre den Haan is a resident in Neurology and postdoctoral researcher at Amsterdam University Medical Center, location VUMC, in the Netherlands. He received his medical degree in 2014 and subsequently started his PhD at the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam focused on searching retinal biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of his PhD he collected retinal data in AD patients with in-vivo methods in the form of optical coherence tomography (angiography) (OCT(A)), fundus photography and fluorescence imaging. In addition he worked on several post-mortem projects assessing pathological hallmarks of AD in the retina and the use of curcumin as fluorescent marker for amyloid pathology. During his PhD he was a visiting researcher at Queen’s Square Neurology in London, the United Kingdom, where he focused on retinal thickness measured with OCT in posterior cortical atrophy an typical Alzheimer’s disease. In 2019, he defended his thesis ‘Retinal Imaging in Alzheimer’s Disease’ and started his clinical work in Neurology.  Observing the heterogeneity in the emerging research field of retinal imaging in AD he was involved in forming the new Personal Interest Area (PIA) ‘The Eye as a Biomarker for AD’, and was installed as junior chair