Yale associate professor of psychology Karyn Frick was awarded the third annual Society for Women’s Health Research Medtronic Prize for Scientific Contributions to Women’s Health. The $75,000 prize recognized Dr. Frick’s outstanding research progress in behavioral neuroscience as well as her continued efforts as a role model for students and fellow women researchers studying sex differences and women’s health. Frick’s research, which she has been working on since she arrived at Yale over a decade ago, characterizes the effect of the hormonal shifts in middle-aged women on learning and memory functions.
Her goal is to inhibit memory decline in aging women by identifying specific mechanism through which hormones affect the brain’s ability to store and recall information.
It is her belief that one such hormone, estrogen, has a beneficial effect on the ability of the hippocampus to encode new information. As such, Frick is working to uncover the specific signaling molecules and receptors involved in this pathway.
To this end, Frick’s lab has identified an extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK) which is activated by estrogen. This kinase signaling cascade plays an important role in the hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for memory formation.
Mapping the mechanism behind estrogen’s positive impact on memory storage would reveal targets for new drugs to “mimic” this function of estrogen. Ideally, these would function without the negative effects which currently plague hormone replacement therapy, including increased breast cancer risk.
Frick hopes that, with continued research progress, such a drug could promote learning and memory in those with cognitive impairment within the next ten years.