The principal research interests of Michelle M. Mielke, Ph.D., are to further the understanding of the epidemiology of neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders, and the sex-specific differences in the risk and progression of these diseases.
A primary focus of Dr. Mielke's research is the identification of biomarkers for the diagnosis, prediction and progression of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia.
Much of her work has emphasized both lipid markers — particularly sphingolipids (ceramides and sphingomyelins) — and neuroimaging markers. Dr. Mielke also examines the sex-specific interrelationships between sphingolipids, hormones (for example, estrogen loss at menopause), and the development of cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative conditions.
- Can we predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease and other dementias? Changes in the brain begin many years before people develop cognitive symptoms. Dr. Mielke is working to understand how the brain changes in people who are cognitively normal and what epidemiological, societal and biological factors predict who will develop these brain changes and cognitive impairment.
Can we identify new treatment targets for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia? Sphingolipids are associated with cell signaling and cell death. Dr. Mielke is working to understand how changes in the sphingolipid pathway — in both the blood and cerebrospinal fluid — are associated with brain pathology and disease progression across neurodegenerative diseases.
This work may lead to the development of new treatment targets for neurodegenerative conditions and the development of new assays for use in the clinic to predict rate of disease progression.
- How do sex and gender affect the risk factors, symptom onset and disease progression of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases? Dr. Mielke is involved in the Specialized Center for Research on Sex Differences at Mayo Clinic. She is helping to examine whether a history of hypertensive pregnancy disorders and hormone use are risk factors for mortality, cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment. Dr. Mielke also examines sex-specific risk factors in both men and women to better predict risk of neurodegenerative diseases and to develop sex-specific risk scores.
Significance to patient care
Dr. Mielke's research will help to better understand the risk factors and brain pathology associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in both women and men. This understanding will help identify early diagnostic and prognostic indicators for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
Her research on sphingolipids will help identify new drug targets for the treatment and prevention of multiple neurodegenerative conditions, with a specific focus on Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.
Dr. Mielke's work on sex and gender differences in disease risk will contribute to better precision-based medicine for men and women.
- John R. Raymond Mentor Award, Women Scholars Initiative, Medical University of South Carolina, 2016
- Associate editor, Alzheimer's and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, 2012-present
- Scholar, National Institute of Mental Health Advanced Research Institute in Geriatric Psychiatry, 2010
- Junior Investigator Award, International College of Geriatric Psychoneuropharmacology, 2007
- Harold and Sylvia Halpert Endowment Award, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2005