For Banting Scholar Dr. Brianne Kent, research is all about rhythm

Dr. Brianne Kent, Nygaard Lab, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

“The great thing about working with both patients and pre-clinical models is that the research truly is translational,” says Dr. Brianne Kent. “Understanding patients with Alzheimer disease helps me to ask the right questions, better inform study design, and delve into the mechanisms of the disease in a holistic way.”

Dr. Kent, already a Killam Laureate and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) trainee, recently received a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) for her work in investigating peripheral circadian oscillators as therapeutic targets for Alzheimer disease.  She is supervised by Dr. Haakon Nygaard and mentored by former Associate Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Howard Feldman.

In Dr. Haakon Nygaard’s lab, Dr. Kent has been working to understand the role of circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock, and how those patterns change in Alzheimer disease.

Ordinarily, the body follows a pattern of sleep and wakefulness that contributes to metabolism, hormone production, and cellular repair, among other essential functions. During sleep, the body’s glymphatic system clears waste fluids and proteins that accumulate in the brain throughout the day, flushing the plaques that build up and contribute to neurodegeneration. In Alzheimer disease, those patterns are altered; the disease causes sleep disruption, and sleep disruption perpetuates the accumulation of the toxic proteins thought to be accelerating the disease. Dr. Kent likens the experience to permanent jet lag, wherein one’s internal clock is not adjusted to their environment.

Currently, Dr. Kent is looking at the possibility of sleep intervention and increased consumption of the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in products such as coconut oil as a novel therapeutic initiative in Alzheimer disease. Her work examines whether dietary MCTs can affect circadian rhythms and improve sleep. Study participants are given a device to track sleep and sleep interruptions, and are followed for a few weeks to see whether the MCT interventions are beneficial in improving sleep.

“It’s such a unique opportunity to be able to take questions we have in the clinic and apply them to pre-clinical models of Alzheimer disease,” says Dr. Kent. “If we can see that what we’re doing in humans is working, we can take that information back to the lab to understand why. We hope that this will lead to a new target for treatment.”

For Dr. Nygaard, Fipke Professor in Alzheimer Research and Director of the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer and Related Disorders, Dr. Kent represents the future of Alzheimer and dementia research.

“It was obvious from our first meeting that Dr. Kent has enormous research potential, and exemplifies the type of individual we need to carefully support and attract to UBC,” says Dr. Nygaard. “Dr. Kent brings unique skills and perspective to our research group, and since joining our team at UBC has been developing the skills to uniquely position her as an expert in the translational space of Alzheimer’s research. Her future is very bright.”

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program provides the opportunity to bring top talent to join the research community at UBC. Fellowships are awarded to the very best postdoctoral researchers, both nationally and internationally, who will positively contribute to Canada's economic, social and research-based growth. Emphasis is placed on the synergy of research goals and projects between applicants, supervisors, and host institutions.

For more information on MINT-01 (A Medium Chain Triglyceride INTervention for Alzheimer Disease (A MINT for AD Study) or to enroll in the study, email pslack@mail.ubc.ca