Dr. Haakon Nygaard

Dr. Haakon Nygaard

The potential is yours.

When dealing with our world’s most difficult problems, there are two choices: Either giving up and admitting defeat, or believing in our potential to shape a different future. That choice is at the heart of UBC’s latest national advertising campaign, called ‘The potential is yours.

Meet Dr. Haakon Nygaard, Fipke Professor in Alzheimer’s Research and Director, UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders, who is featured in the campaign.


Q
What are you currently researching or working on?

A: I have a team working on projects ranging from laboratory work on stem cells derived from patients with various dementia syndromes to clinical trials testing new therapies for Alzheimer disease and frontotemporal dementia. We’re now able to transform blood cells obtained from a patient with dementia through a simple blood draw to living neurons forming brain-like networks in a dish. We study these networks looking for signatures and molecular targets that may pose a unique and highly individualized risk for developing dementia.

Clinically, we’re looking to repurpose existing drugs for use in patients with Alzheimer disease. This highlights a central aim of my research: to develop new therapeutic strategies across the dementia spectrum. We have recently launched an effort to study ketones, either supplemented or achieved through a special diet, as a therapy for dementia. We are particularly interested in the role of sleep in dementia and have recently enrolled patients to monitor sleep through a highly portable electroencephalopgraphy (EEG) headband.

As a scientist working in this field, I am constantly looking for new therapeutic angles that might not have been previously explored. This is in addition to working within what has become a worldwide partnership against dementia, with researchers all over the world working together to find a cure.

— Dr. Haakon Nygaard
Q
What drew you to your field of study?

A: As with most students, my field of study was influenced by early exposure to neurology and behavioural neurology in medical school. Studying the brain continues to be just as intriguing today as it was when I first started. When you combine this with the dire need for new therapies for many neurological disorders, you have an added incentive for innovation. I also found myself enjoying working with older people, which ultimately led to behavioural neurology (dementia) as a subspecialty.

Q
What are some challenges related to your field that you’re hoping to help solve?

A: The challenges are daunting: they are all rooted in the current lack of an effective therapy for any dementia syndrome, including Alzheimer disease. Apart from the devastating impact these diseases have on patients and their families, the broader socio-economic impact in Canada and worldwide of a steadily aging population are alarming. As a scientist working in this field, I am constantly looking for new therapeutic angles that might not have been previously explored. This is in addition to working within what has become a worldwide partnership against dementia, with researchers all over the world working together to find a cure.

Q
How does UBC support you in realizing your greatest potential?

A: UBC provides an optimal environment for scientific discovery by allowing ‘space’ for scientific directions to play out: salary, state-of-the-art infrastructure support, and perhaps most importantly, a community of truly amazing minds that may place your ideas in a context otherwise not possible. It’s an inspiring place to work.

See Dr. Haakon Nygaard in the campaign

‘The potential is yours’ campaign highlights the importance of UBC’s research and teaching mission, and demonstrates how the university is helping to address society’s largest challenges.