Amy Dunn

The Jackson Laboratory

Why do some people develop disease while others don’t?

That question animates the research Amy Dunn pursues to better understand what — besides genetics — propels someone down the path toward Alzheimer’s disease. A postdoctoral fellow at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, she concentrates on environmental influences — such as the foods people eat — that may prove critical to a person’s vulnerability.

Dunn is studying high-fat, high-sugar diets in a genetically diverse population of mice to understand what makes certain mice suffer cognitive decline while others remain resilient. She first developed an interest in environmental risk factors for neurodegenerative disease during graduate school at Emory University. A neuroscience student within the department of environmental health, she was surrounded by scientists studying exposures and related metabolic effects.

“What I found so interesting was that even if someone is exposed to a risk factor, they aren’t guaranteed to go on to develop disease,” she said about Parkinson’s. “I wanted to focus on how both environmental and genetic risk factors come together and synergize to increase a person’s individual risk for the disease.”

For the past two years, she has been concentrating on Alzheimer’s disease both inside and outside the lab. She said she thrives on outreach at underserved schools, which in rural Maine means going into classrooms and talking about science to students who might not know what it’s like to pursue a career like hers.

“It’s good to get out of the lab and think about the impact of what we’re doing and the people who really do fund the science.”

Dunn also speaks to adults in the community, promoting an understanding of how research works and explaining how therapies for something like Alzheimer’s disease are developed.

“It’s good to get out of the lab and think about the impact of what we’re doing and the people who really do fund the science,” she said. “They should know about it.”

— Elizabeth Cooney

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