Home » REC Scholar Spotlight – Dr. Michael Fernandes de Almeida

    REC Scholar Spotlight – Dr. Michael Fernandes de Almeida

    Michael Fernandes de Almeida’s scientific journey began in the small town of Pedralva in southeastern Brazil, where he became the first in his family to pursue higher education. During his college years, he participated in scientific initiation programs. These programs educate undergraduate students on the scientific method, provide training in lab techniques, and offer the opportunity to develop a research project with a mentor.

    Almeida’s involvement in Alzheimer’s research soon followed. He pursued a Master of Science degree at the University of São Paulo with a focus on experimental physiopathology and neuroscience. During his graduate studies, he researched the relationship between physical exercise and brain function, particularly in terms of aging neuropathology. Since then, Almeida’s background in kinesiology and neuroscience has allowed him to contribute significantly to the field of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) research, with a recent publication in Ageing Research Reviews.

    When asked what drew him to ADRD research, Almeida shared, “I find Alzheimer’s research compelling because it allows me to delve into the intricate mechanisms of the disease and contribute to the search for effective treatments and interventions.”

    After completing his Master of Science degree in Brazil, Almeida and his wife Karen Farizatto, both scientists, moved to North Carolina in 2015. Farizatto accepted a postdoctoral position in Dr. Ben Bahr’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Lab at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNC-P). While supporting Farizatto in her postdoctoral training, Almeida pursued his own academic goals by applying for a PhD program in the U.S. First, he joined Dr. Bahr’s lab as a Research Specialist, working on various projects funded by the NIH and U.S. Department of Defense. This research focused on different aspects of Alzheimer’s disease, including synapse components, cell adhesion molecules, and proteostasis dynamics in brain aging and neurodegeneration.

    Almeida pursued a PhD in Integrative and Comparative Biology at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNC-W), a program that operated in collaboration with UNC-Pembroke. Through his doctoral studies, he engaged in joint research with the Bahr lab (UNC-P) and Dr. Stephen Kinsey’s lab (UNC-W). Almeida’s PhD research centered around the impact of lifestyle strategies on preventing cognitive deficits during brain aging in pre-clinical models. In particular, he investigated the impact of exercise and diet on regulating proteostasis and synaptic integrity.

    Reflecting on Almeida’s time in his lab, Bahr notes, “I saw a unique drive in Michael Almeida for ADRD research while he meticulously carried out a wide range of aging, synaptopathy, and AD mechanism studies at UNC-P, using molecular, cellular, and behavioral assessments. And his work always showed a commitment to training and exciting students in the lab to help them develop into future scientists committed to health-oriented research.”

    During this time, Almeida became involved with the Duke/UNC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) through Bahr’s affiliation with the Center. Since then, he has been an active member of this “extraordinarily engaged scientific community.” He has served on the Research Education Component (REC) Core Advisory Committee, presented his research twice at monthly IDEAS Forums, and participated at the first two annual SLAM DUNC (Symposium for Learning about Alzheimer’s disease-related Medical Research at Duke and UNC) events held at Duke University and UNC-P, respectively. Then last year, he became a REC Scholar when he was selected to join the 2023-2025 cohort, receiving funding and research support from the ADRC.

    Almeida explains the benefits he has received from his involvement with the Duke/UNC ADRC: “My interactions with the Duke/UNC ADRC have far exceeded my expectations. Through these engagements, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with outstanding scientists, leading to the expansion of my PhD research.”

    Through networking opportunities offered at SLAM DUNC, Almeida established several key research collaborations. Following a networking discussion at SLAM DUNC 2022 held at Duke, Almeida formed a collaboration with Dr. Erzebet Szatmari from East Carolina University (ECU) to investigate the mitochondrial response after dietary supplementation in mild-cognitive impaired rats. During that same networking session, Almeida met Dr. Jonathan Schisler, who has since become his postdoctoral mentor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). After presenting at SLAM DUNC 2022, he initiated a promising collaboration with Dr. Todd Cohen (UNC-CH) to explore a new human tau mutation as a model for studying Alzheimer’s disease. Preliminary results from this collaboration were presented at the subsequent SLAM DUNC 2023 meeting at UNC-Pembroke by Miles Bryan, a postdoctoral fellow in Cohen’s lab.

    After graduating with his PhD, Almeida joined the Schisler lab in 2023 as a Postdoctoral Research Associate. The Schisler lab is situated within the McAllister Heart Institute in the Department of Pharmacology at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this role, Almeida’s research is centered on protein quality control mechanisms and their implications for age-related disease, particularly protein accumulation pathologies. The work has been well-suited for Almeida, who brings expertise in both bioimaging and protein quality control in age-related diseases. He considers it an honor to be mentored by Schisler, who is widely recognized for his proficiency in investigating protein integrity across various levels—spanning atomic, biochemical, cellular, and organismal—and employing integrative and functional biochemistry models. Almeida’s background in image science and the opportunity for mentorship by Schisler positions him nicely for future contributions to ADRD research.

    Six months into his tenure as a REC scholar, Almeida’s ADRD research plans have continued to gain steam. Building on his doctoral research, he initiated proteomics analysis to explore how aging and dietary factors influence the array of proteins associated with the risk of ADRD. He aims to identify new therapeutic targets through this analysis. As he embarks on this exciting work, he shares, “I am grateful for the robust support I have received from the Duke/UNC ADRC REC Core and the program directors. Their assistance has been instrumental in facilitating numerous grant applications, which are crucial for sustaining my postdoctoral training and preparing for my transition to an independent career.”

    Learn all about the REC Scholar trainee program at the REC Scholar Site!