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Postdoc Rebecca Beiter’s neurodegenerative research funded by Kirschstein Award

Rebecca Beiter, PhD
Rebecca Beiter, PhD

Rebecca Beiter, PhD, a postdoc in the lab of Dorothy P. Schafer, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology, has received a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Service Award Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dr. Beiter will use the funding to analyze the role a type of glia called oligodendrocyte precursor cells, or OPCs, play in neurodegenerative diseases. 

Beiter explained that microglia can remove debris such as the beta-amyloid protein that collects there in Alzheimers patients from of the brain. A second type of glia, the OPCs, have the ability to replenish the myelin, a fat sheath that covers neurons, that is lost in multiple sclerosis patients. Recently, OPCs have been shown to be able to clean debris, too, during normal development. 

“We know that OPCs should be able to turn into mature oligodendrocytes and make new myelin. But we know that they dont always do that properly,” Beiter said. Are they busy or distracted doing something else? One of our hypotheses is that the OPCs are busy clearing away debris. If we can figure out what cues or signals might be causing them to do that, maybe we can use that information to push them to the proper way to fix some of these underlying things that are really causing the symptoms of disease.”  

Dr. Schafer said Beiters research has the potential to offer a paradigm shift in our understanding of why myelin fails to regenerate at later stages of disease in multiple sclerosis, but also other neurodegenerative diseases. 

“If OPCs are, indeed, engulfing debris and this is inhibitory to their myelin regeneration function, this becomes a completely novel therapeutic target to tackle,” Schafer said.Becca has done an amazing job in independently developing this line of research and I expect she will uncover exciting, new, therapeutically relevant biology.” 

Beiter came to the Schafer lab in September 2022 after earning her PhD in neuroscience from the University of Virginia. She has a bachelors degree in psychology from Franciscan University of Steubenville.