Auburn Spotlight, Miranda Reed

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in why people behave certain ways
Miranda Reed
Associate Professor, Harrison School of Pharmacy

Spotlight Interview

The profession of pharmacy and the role of a pharmacist is one that is continually expanding. That applies to the actual practice of pharmacy, along with the research components. Those studying how to improve drugs, treatments, delivery systems and programs to improve people's health outcomes find their way to pharmacy from a variety of paths.

Scrolling through the faculty in the Harrison School of Pharmacy's Department of Drug Discovery and Development, one would see the expected disciplines: biology, chemistry, pharmaceutical science and genetics. One that stands out, though, is Miranda Reed, an associate professor with degrees in psychology.

A three-time Auburn alumna, Reed earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2002 and a master's in experimental psychology in 2005. She completed her doctorate in experimental psychology from Auburn in 2007. Following a post-doctoral fellowship at the University in Minnesota, she took her first faculty appointment at West Virginia University before making her way back to the plains in 2015.

How does a psychologist end up in a pharmacy school? Her study of brain function is proving to be a valuable asset as she and other pharmacy investigators look for early warning signs and potential treatment of diseases like Alzheimer's.

For Reed, an interest in brain function was always there, eventually growing to neuroscience before landing at Alzheimer's disease.

"For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in why people behave certain ways,” said Reed. "Why does one person develop a drug addiction and another doesn't? Why are some people so successful and others not? Understanding how the brain influences behavior, and vice versa, is of immense interest to me.

"I knew when starting my undergraduate work that neuroscience and a doctorate were my goals. I wanted to work in academia and study the link between behavior and the brain, a field commonly called behavioral neuroscience. Over time, I became more and more interested in age-related alterations in behavior, including age-related memory loss. This eventually resulted in a focus on Alzheimer's disease.”

Her work in studying Alzheimer's disease has brought funding from the Alzheimer's Association, the American Foundation for Pharmacies and multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health.

"A major goal of the lab is to identify the earliest alterations that occur in Alzheimer's disease in the hopes of therapeutically targeting these alterations very early, before neuronal loss occurs in the brain,” said Reed. "Right now, most of the diagnostics for Alzheimer's measure behaviors that are associated with regions of the brain affected relatively late in the disease process. Thus, by the time a person is exhibiting deficits in this region and the associated behaviors, pathology is pretty advanced.”

By the time doctors realize someone is exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's, it is most likely too late to successfully treat. Reed said she hopes that her work can help identify the signs much earlier in the process, allowing for an earlier diagnosis.

"We know that one area of the brain is altered very early in the disease process, but we know almost nothing about this region in terms of its link to behaviors,” said Reed. "Using my combination of training in neuroscience and psychology, my lab aims to determine what behavioral effects alterations in this region have. We hope to ultimately use this knowledge to develop an early diagnostic tool for Alzheimer's.”

Reed's work also stands out as a female navigating a field that is historically dominated by men. With more women pursuing STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — careers and making a name in the lab sciences, Reed said she looks forward to the day where there is more gender balance and hopes to be an example for those who are interested.

"I think one of the most powerful determinants of whether a woman goes into a science profession is whether anyone encourages her to do so and I hope to provide that encouragement,” said Reed. "I am forever thankful to my grandmother for telling me I was a ‘leader' when others called me ‘bossy' as a child, and to my postdoctoral mentor for showing me how to be confident during a meeting and tactfully handle such situations.”