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Homecoming honoree solving Parkinson's Disease mysteries

Kim Neifer Caldwell
Kimberley Neifer Caldwell

Award-winning scientist Kimberlee (Neifer) Caldwell, ’87, returned to campus to accept the Outstanding Achievement Award during Homecoming and deliver a seminar to students and faculty about her ground-breaking research into the possible causes of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Caldwell was honored with fellow biology alumnus Dr. John Baust, ’65, and Business Administration alumnus Clifton Turner, ’84, at the Homecoming Awards Luncheon. In receiving her award in Cranston Marché, she singled out Biology professors Dr. Wayne Yunghans and Dr. Ken Mantai for giving her a head start in research.

Her seminar, titled, “Worming out a potential cause for Parkinson’s disease,” covered neuroscience, human health and microbial ecology in a discussion of new data Dr. Caldwell has published on a novel environmental cause of neuronal cell death. Dr. Caldwell has found that excretions from a common soil bacteria kill dopamine neurons in two different worms and in human neurons in culture — the same neurons that die in Parkinson’s patients.

Her research team hypothesizes that this soil bacterium could be an undiscovered contributor linked to idiopathic Parkinson’s disease.

Since 90 percent of all Parkinson’s cases do not have a discovered genetic component, Dr. Caldwell’s team is excited about the environmental lead. She believes that the disease could likely be due to an environmental cause alone or a combination of environment and genetics. However, she emphasized that her team is still a long way from proving that this bacterial toxin is involved in human Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Caldwell is a native of North Collins, N.Y., and a tenured faculty member at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where she performs research on proteins associated with Parkinson’s. In 2005, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and National Academy of Sciences named Dr. Caldwell an Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, and in 2008, Dr. Caldwell, along with her research partner and husband, Dr. Guy Caldwell, shared the inaugural HudsonAlpha Prize for Outstanding Innovation in Life Sciences. She has also received a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.

She received her undergraduate degree in Recombinant Gene Technology from SUNY Fredonia after performing research under the mentorship of Dr. Yunghans, and later her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Tennessee.

She has held post-doctoral research appointments at The Rockefeller University and Columbia University in New York and has published in many outstanding peer-reviewed journals including Nature, Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

posted @ Friday, January 22, 2010 2:24 PM by Christine Davis Mantai

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