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While Eastern Kentucky University is primarily known as a teaching institution dedicated to student success— and powering Kentucky communities with graduates who work as essential employees— EKU faculty also conduct ground-breaking academic research as part of EKU’s comprehensive mission. 

Dr. Brad Kraemer, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is one of those researchers. He and his team conduct basic scientific research on the p75 neurotrophin receptor protein, a project which could have a major impact on the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and similar disorders. The protein p75 neurotrophin (p75NTR) receptor becomes activated when neurons are injured, and its activity leads to the death of the neurons or other cells. Slowing or stopping its activity could limit damage caused by disorders of the nervous system.

Kraemer has been studying the p75NTR protein since his days as a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, where he earned a doctoral degree in neuroscience. The protein plays an important role in regulating cell death, a main factor in the progression of disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, and something in which Kraemer says he has always been interested. Kraemer and his team hope to better understand what occurs in individuals with those diseases so that medical researchers can better develop effective treatment. 

“I think this work could contribute very meaningfully to the scientific community by helping to shed light on what happens with this disorder,” Kraemer said. “Then, the hope would be that a pharmaceutical company will gain greater insight into effective strategies for trying out a drug or therapeutic technique.”

Kraemer began as an assistant professor at Eastern in Fall 2016, after searching for a position that lent itself to his dual passion for teaching and research. That search led him right to EKU. “I felt like I could get the best of both worlds,” he said. 

It turns out, Kraemer found, that Eastern is uniquely positioned for faculty to succeed in both worlds.The state-of-the-art New Science Building, phase two of which was completed in 2017, proved an instrumental space for his vital scientific research. 

“One of the things I’m very proud of at EKU is that I have a laboratory space and equipment that is as good or better than many at prestigious research institutions,” said Kraemer. “The New Science Building has not only helped to put EKU on the map in terms of research, but it’s also led to higher levels of student success and a better EKU experience.”

Beyond contributing to the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, those higher levels of student success is a chief aim of Kraemer’s research efforts. The biology department provides Kraemer with a ready undergraduate student workforce, a relationship which he has found to be mutually beneficial. As admission to graduate programs in the sciences becomes increasingly competitive, undergraduate research experience becomes more of a necessity.  Small class sizes at EKU allow more students to participate in vital research alongside faculty. In fact, many of the students that Kraemer has trained have found success getting into top-notch medical, dental, and pharmacy schools— a fact in which he takes great pride.

“Going through that research training process has some really powerful benefits for students,” Kraemer said. “As our research momentum grows, I think we’re also going to see student success rates continue to climb.”