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“There are generational changes we are seeing that shows some progress.” With Penny Bauder & Dr. Maria Carrillo

No one can be truly satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM. There are generational changes we are seeing that shows some progress. For example, we are seeing more young women researchers in the Alzheimer’s field than ever before. For the last two years, more than half of attendees at the Alzheimer’s Association […]

No one can be truly satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM.

There are generational changes we are seeing that shows some progress. For example, we are seeing more young women researchers in the Alzheimer’s field than ever before. For the last two years, more than half of attendees at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference have been women.

The challenge remains to make sure the STEM environments women work in are attentive to the unique needs women needs for career growth, including family planning and child bearing. We see less women moving up the ranks in tenured tracks. We need to support women and create alternative models of working in a challenging career.

I was the only woman in my graduate class who had children in school and it was very challenging. I had a very supportive mentor who helped show me what the path forward looked like. As a woman who’s done it, it’s possible. There are a lot of sacrifices, but a supportive environment is critical.


As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., chief science officer, Alzheimer’s Association.

As chief science officer, Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., sets the strategic vision for the Alzheimer’s Association global research program. Under her leadership, the Association is the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research and an internationally recognized pioneer in convening the dementia science community to accelerate the field. As a noted public speaker, Dr. Carrillo plays an instrumental role in the Association’s efforts to lobby both the public and private sectors for increased funding for the disease.

Dr. Carrillo oversees the implementation of the Association’s growing portfolio of research initiatives, including the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®), the world’s largest and most influential dementia science meeting, and the Research Roundtable, which enables international scientific, industry and government leaders to work together to overcome shared obstacles in Alzheimer’s science and drug development. In addition, Carrillo manages the World Wide Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (WW-ADNI), a multi-country research effort aimed at accelerating the early detection of Alzheimer’s.

Under Dr. Carrillo’s direction, the Association’s leadership in Alzheimer’s research continues to thrive through its International Research Grant Program, which is currently investing $167 million in more than 500 active best-of-field projects in 27 countries. In addition, the Association has expanded its role in advancing dementia science by becoming directly involved in research. Dr. Carrillo is a co-primary investigator for the Association-funded and -led U.S. POINTER study, a lifestyle intervention trial to prevent cognitive decline and dementia.

Dr. Carrillo has published extensively on early diagnosis and biomarker standardization efforts, as well as on the global challenges to progress for research in Alzheimer’s and dementia. She is a co-author of the “Appropriate Use Criteria for Amyloid Imaging,” published by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging and the Alzheimer’s Association.

As an internationally respected Alzheimer’s expert, Dr. Carrillo has been featured in numerous international media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.” She received the 2018 Alumnae Award from Northwestern University, recognizing an outstanding alumna who has brought honor to the university through significant contribution and national recognition in her field. Dr. Carrillo sits on the governing board of the Global Brain Health Institute and is on the advisory committee for the World Health Organization Dementia Setting Priorities & Portfolio Analysis. She also is a member of the American Heart Association’s research committee.

Dr. Carrillo earned her Ph.D. from Northwestern University’s Institute for Neuroscience and completed a postdoctoral fellowship focused on Alzheimer’s brain imaging and risk factors at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ihave always been interested in neuroscience, aging and the mysteries of the brain. In school, I studied changes in learning and memory in humans and animals, and was fortunate to study and work with people with neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. Since 2004, I have been with the Alzheimer’s Association, leading the organization’s scientific and research efforts.

I didn’t know when I started in this field that I’d be personally touched by Alzheimer’s. My family gradually began to notice my mother-in-law’s declining memory in the late 2000s. She eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009. The diagnosis, while devastating, made me all the more passionate about the work I was doing and made me want to fight harder.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Last year, I was invited to speak at The Giving Pledge, an organization started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. It was so humbling, and albeit intimidating, speaking about Alzheimer’s to a room full of some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world. I remember thinking, wow, I can’t believe I’m here.

That opportunity taught me that it doesn’t matter what your role in life is or how much money you have, everyone has been touched by dementia.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For me, the Alzheimer’s Association’s strength is our ability to care for people today, and do the research so we can care better for them tomorrow.

The Alzheimer’s Association has grown and evolved to be more than an advocacy organization for people living with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers and their families. We now are the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s and dementia research in the entire world, and beyond that, we are funding promising research no one else is.

For example, the Alzheimer’s Association’s innovative Part the Cloud global research program, in partnership with visionary philanthropist Mikey Hoag, propels high-risk, high-potential new ideas for Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Since its founding, $30 million has been awarded in Part the Cloud programs, and these projects have gone on to receive $290 million in additional funding from other sources. The program is also attracting big advocates. In recent months, Bill Gates joined Part the Cloud by funding a $10 million award. It’s been incredibly exciting to watch this program move promising projects over that hump and give them the push they need to go on to secure further funding.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The Alzheimer’s Association recognizes that funding and supporting research is important, but we are uniquely positioned to carry out research, too. We are leading a groundbreaking clinical trial called the U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER), which will study whether lifestyle changes can protect memory in people at risk of developing dementia. This project is an unparalleled examination of how lifestyle ‘therapies’ may change our brain in ways that are related to Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and overall brain health. U.S. POINTER is designed to determine what lifestyle interventions have a tangible impact on our brains, and may provide us the best recipe to reduce the risk of dementia before symptoms have a chance to appear.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

No one can be truly satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM.

There are generational changes we are seeing that shows some progress. For example, we are seeing more young women researchers in the Alzheimer’s field than ever before. For the last two years, more than half of attendees at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference have been women.

The challenge remains to make sure the STEM environments women work in are attentive to the unique needs women needs for career growth, including family planning and child bearing. We see less women moving up the ranks in tenured tracks. We need to support women and create alternative models of working in a challenging career.

I was the only woman in my graduate class who had children in school and it was very challenging. I had a very supportive mentor who helped show me what the path forward looked like. As a woman who’s done it, it’s possible. There are a lot of sacrifices, but a supportive environment is critical.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In my 14 years traveling to more than 25 countries with the Alzheimer’s Association, one thing has been made abundantly clear to me: no person or place is immune to Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing this, a personal and professional goal of mine was to engage with parts of the world where there is not a lot of funding or support for dementia research or care. So, I created the Alzheimer’s Association Satellite Symposia as a way to provide opportunities to assemble the international research community, and ensure that early career researchers around the world have opportunities to learn from and present their research to global leading researchers. I, myself, am Latin American and I am proud to have ran three Satellite Symposia in Latin American countries.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Diabetes runs in my family, so knowing that, I do things that science shows will reduce my risk (like eat a healthy diet, exercise and control my blood pressure). I want everyone to have the same risk-reduction “recipe” for Alzheimer’s. That’s what is so exciting about U.S. POINTER — — It’s the first study in a diverse population that will give people actionable things to do to reduce their risk for cognitive decline, bringing good to people concerned about their risk for dementia.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The Chicago Blackhawks motto: “One goal.”

We at the Alzheimer’s Association and everyone who has been impacted by these devastating diseases have one goal: a world without Alzheimer’s and all dementia.

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