NMSU Fulbright Scholar to Research Algae for Brain Health

Algae for Brain Health

Professor of biology Elba Serrano will be traveling to Portugal next spring to study marine algae as a source of food to support brain health.

Elba Serrano, Regents Professor in New Mexico State University’s Department of Biology, has received a 2021-2022 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to study marine algae as a source of food to support brain health. 

With funding from the U.S. State Department, Dr. Serrano will travel to the University of Aveiro in northern Portugal with chemistry professor Maria Rosário Domingues. Their project is titled “Seaweed and the Brain: Using Lipidomics to Determine how Algal Lipids affect the Nervous System” and will get underway in March of 2022, continuing for four months.

“A little-appreciated fact is the brain relies on healthy fat to maintain brain health — omega and other polyunsaturated fats and the right amount of cholesterol are critical for brain function,” says Dr. Serrano. “Over half our brain weight is fat. Our research can help identify which marine algae are promising to develop as a food source that provides fats that will support brain health.”

The project aims to advance sustainable food efforts and build collaborative ties between the U.S. and Portugal in research and education. “We are fortunate to have had the benefit of Dr. Serrano’s talents as a Regents Professor and researcher in our biology department at NMSU for decades,” said Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We are proud of her leadership in efforts to promote STEM programs for our students. This Fulbright Award is merely the latest of many awards recognizing her research excellence and collaborative efforts nationally and internationally.”

“Our project will build on my lab’s expertise growing brain cells in incubators under controlled conditions and the Domingues lab’s ability to use chemistry to isolate important nutrients such as Omega and polyunsaturated fats from marine algae,” Dr. Serrano said. “Our goal is to test their effects on isolated brain cells maintained in cell culture dishes that we can observe using microscopes and then analyze chemically for their ability to use the fats.”

During her more than 25 years at NMSU, Serrano has served as the principal investigator and program director of NMSU’s Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement student training program from 2008 to 2018 and was the co-founder/principal investigator of the NIH-funded BP-ENDURE Building Research Achievement in Neuroscience (BRAIN) undergraduate program.

“I am honored to be selected as a U.S. Fulbright Faculty Scholar during the program’s 75th anniversary,” said Dr. Serrano. “It is my hope that my Fulbright will build ties between Portugal and the U.S. and New Mexico and open doors for student exchange. In my opinion, an international study abroad experience should be part of every student’s education.”

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