USC School of Pharmacy Professor Roberta Diaz Brinton is L.A. Magazine’s Woman of the Year
August 25, 2014
Brinton’s translational research is creating innovative novel therapies to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease
Los Angeles Magazine has named Roberta Diaz Brinton its Woman of the Year for her trailblazing research to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Brinton has developed two compounds currently in clinical trials that have immense potential to address the progressive condition currently afflicting more than five million people in the United States alone.
A leading neuroscientist, Brinton has dedicated decades pursuing answers to one of the nation’s most urgent health issues — Alzheimer’s disease and its brutal impact on individuals, families and society. Every 67 seconds, another American develops the disease, which costs the nation more than $200 billion each year. Since women — who comprise two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s — are disproportionately affected, Brinton has focused on discovering why women are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and developing safe and effective natural formulations that provide the brain-saving benefits of estrogen without negative effects on breast and uterine health.
While women are the majority of persons affected by the disease, they also provided the basis for the discovery that a molecule they make during pregnancy can generate neural stems to regenerate the brain and restore memory function in females and males. This discovery is the basis of a clinical trial of the compound, Allopregnanolone, slated to begin this fall in persons with early stage Alzheimer’s. Allopregnanolone is the first regenerative therapy ever tested for Alzheimer’s disease.
Brinton’s work is unique in many ways. It is rare for a single lab to lead the discovery, therapeutic development and clinical trial stages of a project, as her lab has done for both of the current clinical trials she is spearheading. Her lab also serves as an incubator for the next generation of scientists, with seasoned researchers who hold PhD, MD, and PharmD degrees working shoulder-to-shoulder with graduate, undergraduate and even high school students. In addition, the Brinton lab is the antithesis of the academic silo, as she collaborates with colleagues throughout the university as well as experts outside USC.
“My motto is vision the impossible and make it possible,” said Brinton, the R. Pete Vanderveen Chair in Therapeutic Discovery and Development at the USC School of Pharmacy. “When your vision is to do what no one else has done, you need to develop creative and innovative strategies and teams to achieve the goal. USC creates an environment where creativity and innovation thrive and are connected to the human spirit. It is this combination that drives my collaborations from the School of Pharmacy to the Keck School of Medicine to the Andrus School of Gerontology to the Viterbi School of Engineering.”
Brinton also works to make the big vision of curing Alzheimer’s a reality by using a systems biology approach. “We investigate entire systems that are changing in the brain during aging. In the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s, there are combinations of changes that generate the tipping point when disease develops,” she said. Discovery of these changes – identifying when they occur and the tipping point threshold – enables her to more effectively and directly translate her work into therapeutics, taking them from the laboratory bench to the patient bedside.
Brinton’s innovative research and her inspiring outreach to student scientists have previously earned major plaudits. U.S. News & World Report included her in its 2005 “Ten Best Minds” list, and President Barack Obama presented her with the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal — one of the nation’s highest civilian honors — for her work in promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers among students of color.
Brinton’s support of aspiring scientists stems from growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, when science and math were considered beyond the realm of girls and minorities. When she arrived at USC, a teacher in East Los Angeles invited her to speak to students in a science class housed in a trailer. The shabby surroundings could not dim the excitement she saw as the students discussed science. The experience prompted her to initiate the Science Technology and Research (STAR) education program, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Every participant in the program has gone on to complete college, with most pursuing STEM graduate studies and careers. These outcomes are even more impressive considering that many in the STAR program are the first in their family to go to college.
“Professor Brinton’s interdisciplinary approach exemplifies the Trojan spirit of USC,” said School of Pharmacy Dean R. Pete Vanderveen. “She is able to harness the unique expertise of many to discover new approaches to Alzheimer’s disease and to inspire the next generation of scientists.”
Along with Brinton, several outstanding women are recognized in the September issue of Los Angeles Magazine, including actress Eva Longoria who is featured on the cover. For the “Woman of the Year” title, nearly 200 nominees were judged on their community service, mentorship and leadership, as well as their proven ability to inspire and innovate. Helena Chui, MD, a professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and an Alzheimer’s disease expert and colleague of Brinton’s, nominated her for this honor. Brinton will be formally recognized at an awards luncheon on September 16 in Beverly Hills.
ABOUT THE USC SCHOOL OF PHARMACY
Ranked as a top-ten pharmacy school nationwide, the USC School of Pharmacy continues its century-old progressive reputation through its innovative programming, practice and collaborations. The School pioneered the doctor of pharmacy degree, established the nation’s first clinical pharmacy program, launched the first doctorate in regulatory science and is an innovator in pharmacy education, research and patient care. The School houses the International Center for Regulatory Science at USC, and is a partner in the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and the USC Center for Drug Discovery and Development. A focus on clinical pharmacy, community outreach, regulatory science, drug discovery and development, and health economics and policy positions the USC School of Pharmacy as a leader in the safe, efficient and optimal use of medication therapy that can save lives and improve the human condition.
(Photo: Phil Channing)