February 27, 2008

Visiting Fulbright Scholar teams up with pathology's Mark A. Smith to investigate Alzheimer's disease

Vladan Bajic

After spending some of his early years in the United States, Dr. Vladan Bajic has returned to the country as a visiting researcher at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, investigating cell cycle re-entry and chromosomal instability in Alzheimer's disease as a member of the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program.

Beginning in October, he started working with Professor Mark A. Smith from the School of Medicine towards connecting protein instability in the centromere and abortive neuronal cell cycle re-entry in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Instability and alterations in the centromere, a middle region of the chromosome involved in cell division, have been known to lead to several diseases, most notably cancer.

Bajic and Smith suspect similar mechanisms could also be at play in Alzheimer's disease. However, unlike cancer cells, which go on to proliferate, neurons, which are unable to divide, die.

Before collaborating here in Cleveland, the two researchers took different research paths that led in similar directions and ultimately led them to each other.

The original observation by Smith's laboratory led to the fundamental question of why neurons in Alzheimer's disease re-entered the cell cycle after being dormant for decades; Bajic's work in Serbia posed a similar question. Together, the researchers are pooling their collective expertise, approaches, and ideas to look at this question experimentally and try to find out exactly what is happening.

"We've been looking at cell cycle deregulation in Alzheimer's disease for a long time," said Smith, who 10 years ago made the observation that dormant neurons attempt to re-enter the cell cycle in patients with Alzheimer's disease. "Vladan has done a lot of work looking at other cells in the body and found this same instability in patients with disease."

It was Smith's work that drew Bajic to the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Some of Smith's more than 600 published manuscripts and chapters made their way across his desk in Serbia and it was apparent that Smith and others at Case Western Reserve were making great strides in Alzheimer's disease research.

Mark Smith

"I got a lot of insight from Case Western Reserve; the School of Medicine was always referenced in papers I was reading and reviewing," he said "I saw the work that Dr. Smith was doing and reached out to connect with him."

The two began communicating and working towards a collaborative project in the year preceding Bajic receiving the Fulbright grant enabling his research in the United States.

"It was a great situation for me to come to one of the best research centers in the United States for Alzheimer's disease," Bajic said, noting that he and Smith feel their earlier connection made the transition to Cleveland a relatively easy one.

"From day one there has been great synergy," Smith said. "Vladan immediately integrated himself into our group and has brought some novel ideas to our lab."

Bajic is one of only approximately 800 professionals from around the world who are doing research in the United States as part of the Fulbright Visiting Scholar program. A similar number of U.S. faculty and professionals receive awards to lecture and conduct research abroad.

Born in Switzerland, he came with his family to the United States in 1966 after a brief stint in Africa. The family moved to Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia) in 1972 where Bajic completed his schooling, for his bachelor, master and doctoral degrees at the University of Belgrade.

Throughout that time, Bajic made several trips back to the United States. His brother, an international airline pilot, is a U.S. citizen.

In Serbia, Bajic is the head of the Pharmacology Department at the Institute for Pharmaceutical and Quality Research in Belgrade. He plans to continue his collaborative efforts with Smith upon his return.

Bajic and Smith
Bajic and Smith

"Our time together has flown by and we have really accomplished a huge amount of work. However, six months is not a lot of time to get as much done as we want to get done," he said.

Together, the researchers plan to submit a number of papers for publication by the end of the year.

Dr. Smith agrees and looks forward to continuing this fruitful relationship.

"Once Bajic returns home, the collaboration will not end. Some of the work in the future can be done when Vladan is in Serbia, some of it can be done here," he said. "The best thing about him coming here is that he now knows how our lab works and we now know how he works. We have worked very well together and this is a great start to our long term collaborative efforts."

For more information contact Jason Tirotta, 216.368.6890.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, February 27, 2008 11:20 AM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Healthcare, Provost Initiatives, Research, School of Medicine

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