Tessa Harrison, PhD

I am a neuroscientist and neuroimager committed to studying healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). I began my training with Drs. Emily Rogalski and M-Marsel Mesulam studying the rare dementia syndrome primary progressive aphasia and a unique cohort of high-performing individuals over 80 (dubbed ‘SuperAgers’). I then matriculated to UCLA for my doctoral studies with Dr. Susan Bookheimer where I studied MRI-based markers of genetic risk for AD in cognitively unimpaired cohorts. Currently I am a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Bill Jagust where I have expanded my expertise to include PET imaging of amyloid and tau in vivo. As a postdoc I have characterized amyloid pathology in unusually successful agers and led a study exploring longitudinal change in tau-PET in unimpaired older adults and patients with AD. 

In the future, I aim to establish an independent laboratory focused on using longitudinal data and advanced statistical models to explore the intersection of typical aging, successful aging and neurodegenerative disease. Key questions include: 1) can we predict the departure from an unimpaired cognitive aging trajectory to a pathological one? 2) what factors promote unimpaired cognition in the presence of pathology and/or increased risk for AD (e.g., resilience)? and 3) how do some older adults avoid common age-related or AD-related brain changes and pathology (e.g., resistance)? Each of these questions aims to help detangle common and uncommon trajectories of cognitive aging. A unique feature of my future work will be the emphasis on deviations from typical aging including both pathological and successful cognitive profiles.

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