Donald L. Elbert

Associate Professor
Department of Neurology
School of Medicine
Department of Neurology Elbert Lab

What is your Research Focus?

  • Prof. Elbert’s research is focused on the development of mathematical models of Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Through close collaboration with a number of research groups, quantitative data from a wide range of experiments are used to inform the models.  The key insight that is sought is a better understanding of the production and clearance of proteins known to affect the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as amyloid beta, tau and neurofilament light chain.  While the main experimental focus is on the use of isotope labeled amino acids in kinetic experiments, quantitative data at multiple length scales from a variety of sources is also used to develop more accurate models.
  • Our work is helping to inform a variety of strategies to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.  The mathematical models are currently being utilized in the development of therapeutic strategies and in the analysis of clinical trial data.  Potential drug targets are also predicted based on an improved understanding of the relative importance of different mechanisms by which potentially toxic proteins leave the brain.  For example, the models predict a substantial role for proteolysis in removal of amyloid beta, suggesting an important role for cells such as microglia in the development of neurodegenerative diseases.  Another key finding was that the clearance of amyloid beta dramatically declines with age. This may explain the role of advanced age in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.  The methods and models may aid in the development of strategies to achieve healthy aging.  Finally, the role of sleep in the development of neurodegenerative diseases is under active investigation.

What opportunities at the UW excite you?

Our aim is to develop predictive mathematical models at a variety of length scales, from proteins to cells to the entire central nervous system.  The University of Washington has world-class expertise at all length scales and a commitment to collaborative open science.  UW is an ideal environment to develop a systems-level understanding of neurodegenerative diseases.