Share this story

Prestigious Kirschstein Award helps fund MD/PhD student's ALS research

MD/PhD student Abigail Hiller
MD/PhD student Abigail Hiller

Abigail Hiller, an MD/PhD student at UMass Chan Medical School, has received a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study the role genes linked to Alzheimers disease play in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrigs disease. 

Hiller said she is studying variants within the membrane-spanning 4-domains, subfamily A (MS4A) gene cluster that have been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimers disease. 

“In thinking about how inflammation plays a role in these different neurodegenerative diseases, it seemed like a logical conclusion that if MS4As are related to Alzheimers because of their role in inflammation, maybe they play a role in other neurodegenerative diseases that have this neuroinflammatory component,” Hiller said.I think the really exciting part of the project is that maybe were expanding upon the role for MS4As in all of these neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are uniformly devastating and have no cures. 

Hiller is mentored by Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, the Donna M. and Robert J. Manning Chair in Neurosciences and professor of neurology, and Paul L. Greer, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine. 

“Im incredibly proud of Abbi for her recent NIH award,” Dr. Greer said. “I cant think of a more deserving student. She has a rare combination of humility, creativity, determination and intelligence that I am convinced positions her for an incredibly bright future in academic medicine. This is evident in her doctoral work, where she has made tremendous strides in uncovering the role of MS4A genes in neurodegenerative disorders, which I think has the potential to make a profound impact on the field. 

Hiller grew up in Arlington and studied psychology at Vassar College. She became interested in neuroscience and physiology during a summer internship in a health psychology lab at the University of California, San Francisco. There, she listened to a talk by Joshua Woolley, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, who introduced her to the possibility of joining her interests in basic research and clinical practice in a career as a physician-scientist. She returned to college with that career goal in mind, adding premedical courses to her schedule and completing a senior thesis in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program. 

Following her graduation with departmental honors in psychology, Hiller spent two years as a research technician at Weill Cornell Medicine, studying Alzheimers disease in the lab of Makoto Ishii, MD, PhD, before matriculating at UMass Chan in 2019. After completing her MD and PhD degrees at UMass Chan, Hiller plans to apply to residency in anesthesiology or internal medicine.