Case study: Dr Elsa Zacco

Dr Elsa Zacco, Newton International Fellowship
2015-2017, King’s College London
Suppressing amyloid formation: novel all-in-one therapeutics against neurodegeneration

Molecular manipulation in combatting neurodegeneration

Elsa Zacco’s career goals have been focused on conducting biomedical research on an international scale, and particularly in the rigorous and challenging scientific community in the UK. The Newton International Fellowship has allowed her to kick-start her post-doctoral career with research into the molecular basis of dementia-associated disorders, and in particular, Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The backing of the fellowship allowed Dr Zacco to approach and choose expert mentors based in the UK, develop her first independent research project and to be involved in the prestigious Royal Society research community.

‘Working in neuroscience is not just fashionable: it is vital, and it matters.’ Dr Zacco’s research focuses on the accumulation of toxic aggregations of proteins and oxygen species within neurons which contribute to the disruption of communication between neurons and eventual death of the cell. By investigating the ways in which toxicity is established and intertwined, Dr Zacco aims to contribute towards the development of novel therapeutic molecules which trick the toxic proteins into regaining their non-toxic structure and simultaneously rebalancing the levels of toxic oxygen species within the neuron. With over one million individuals expected to be diagnosed with dementia in the UK by 2025, Dr Zacco’s research has the potential to have a significant impact upon a large cohort of patients in the future.

In addition to the funding Dr Zacco received, the fellowship offered her the opportunity to take part in courses and training sessions surrounding multiple aspects of scientific careers including student tutoring, peer-to-peer interaction and negotiation with funding bodies; which not only allowed her to develop her career skills but also to exchange experiences with other researchers working in different fields. The fellowship also provided Dr Zacco with funding for travel expenses and therefore increasing the strength of international collaborations for both her research and future career.

‘I believe that the Newton International Fellowship represented the best opportunity I could have had to quickly translate my research interests into applied research.’ The two year support offered as part of the fellowship has allowed Dr Zacco to integrate herself in an international network of Royal Society researchers which has helped her to establish new contacts to pursue for her next post-doctoral fellowship in the field of medicinal chemistry for neuroscience.