Making a Difference: Dr. Anika Hartz

By KBJR News 1

March 14, 2013 Updated Mar 14, 2013 at 10:28 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- A professor at The University of Minnesota Duluth is doing ground-breaking research in the troubling problem of Alzheimer's Disease.

Dr. Anika Hart has received the prestigious McKnight Land-Grant Professor award, a two year research grant.

She is making a difference in the lives of Alzheimer's patients and their families, here in the Northland and beyond.

Hartz is an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy and spends her days researching a function essential to life; the blood brain barrier.

"I think I'm fascinated by that, that as little as blood vessels can make a huge difference whether your brain is healthy or not," Hart said.

The blood brain barrier separates the brain from the body's blood circulation.

Its main function is to supply nutrients and keep out toxins. But sometimes this system, designed to protect our bodies, can actually block life-saving drugs from reaching the brain.

That's where Hartz's research comes into play.

"[We’re hoping to] find drugs that can help restore normal blood brain barrier function," she said.

Inside the pharmacy lab, Hartz works with a group of 10 researchers to isolate blood vessels in the brains of mice.

They hope to develop a drug that will be used to treat or prevent Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

"Translating it from the bench to the bedside, but then even also to best practices or to the home, where it is helping out the patient," Paul Ranelli, Ph.D, professor and interim chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences said.

Hartz joined the College of Pharmacy in 2010, and since then has helped to secure more than $7 million for research.

The McKnight Land-Grant Professor award is expected to be used to buy research equipment. But, most importantly Hartz says, the award will give her flexibility and more time work in her lab.

"I'm excited to be able to really focus on research, because as a faculty, we do research but also teaching and service," she said.

She hopes to put Duluth on the map for blood brain barrier research worldwide.

"Maybe form a blood brain barrier research center, work with others researchers and attract other faculty to Duluth, to the Northland to join our forces."

And most importantly, Dr. Hartz hopes to give patients and families suffering for Alzheimer's and memory loss hope for the future.

Winners of the McKnight Land Grant Professor Award are selected based on the significance of research and its potential to attract outstanding students.