NextUp: The Local Company Unlocking the Mysteries of Brain Disease

Who: Maria Maccecchini was a young scientist in her early twenties when she first became fascinated with the idea of cell death, the process through which human cells stop functioning.

At the time, science students like Maccecchini were taught that while most human cells, like skin cells, can divide or replace themselves many times before they die, cells in the brain were not capable of regenerating. Research later proved this was untrue.

“We later learned that brain cells do, indeed, replace themselves, but they do so very slowly and very poorly,” Maccecchini said.

Maccecchini went on to learn more about how living cells work through decades of study of biochemistry. She’s spent the past 40 years applying her knowledge of living cells to improving the science community’s understanding of how brain cells work and discovering new ways to treat or prevent illness in the brain.

“I love brains, they’re like complicated black boxes,” she said. “I love trying to figure them out.”

In 2009, Maccecchini founded Annovis Bio, a Philadelphia-area biotech company dedicated to developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

What: For years, Maccecchini says neuroscientists have been “barking up the wrong tree,” when it comes to understanding the root cause of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Neuroscientists have largely focused their studies on understanding the abnormal build-up of plaque in the brain; they believed this plaque was solely responsible for brain cell death.

Maccecchini is part of a growing group of scientists who believe in a different theory.

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