Sarah Banks, PhD


Erin Sundermann, PhD


Drs. Sarah Banks and Erin Sundermann were 2020 WAM Research Grant recipients. For many years, Drs. Banks and Sundermann have been dedicated to investigating why women experience AD differently than men, and their research on sex hormones, Alzheimer’s pathology and modifiable risk factors has culminated in Women: Inflammation and Tau Study or “WITS”. WITS is focused on the tau protein, which stops working properly and builds up in brain cells during Alzheimer’s leading to “tangles”. We know that women build up more abnormal tau in their brains than men, but we don’t yet know why. Dr. Banks and Sundermann are investigating whether the greater inflammatory response and/or less anti-inflammatory testosterone in women may contribute to their higher abnormal tau levels. Additionally, the researchers will study whether modifiable lifestyle behaviors such as diet, physical activity, and sleep impact brain inflammation and, ultimately, tau. The results of this research could help develop specialized therapies and risk reduction interventions for women at risk for Alzheimer’s, and pave the way for future studies that could include sex-specific clinical trials and lifestyle interventions.


More about Dr. Sarah Banks

Dr. Sarah Banks focuses on understanding Alzheimer’s disease risk, particularly in women. She is Director of the Neuropsychology Program at the UC San Diego Center for Brain Health and Memory Disorders, and Associate Professor of Neurosciences and Psychiatry.  Whether seeing patients in clinic or conducting research, her interest is in reducing the impact of Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain. To this end, she uses tools such as brain imaging of structures and pathology such as tau, fluid biomarkers with an emphasis on neuroinflammation, wearable technologies measuring sleep and physical activity, and cognitive testing. By understanding the more aggressive version of Alzheimer’s seen in women, her hope is that we will find ways to avert dementia even in both women and men at risk for this disease. 


More about Dr. Erin Sundermann

She is a cognitive neuroscientist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. Her broad research scope is in the investigation of women’s cognitive health in the context of aging and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the discovery of sex-specific biomarkers and risk factors for AD. Dr. Sundermann’s research program aims to inform the reason behind the higher rates of AD in women versus men even when accounting for women’s longer lifespan and to address critical gaps in our understanding of how risk factors, diagnostic accuracy, biomarkers and trajectory of AD differ between men and women. She does this through a comprehensive research program involving neuropsychological, genetic, biomarker and neuroimaging data. Her overarching goal is for the discovery of sex differences and sex-specific mechanisms and risk factors to inform the development of risk reduction and therapeutic intervention that are optimal for women and serve as a window into disease etiology overall.


This content is partially supported by the California Department of Public Health Alzheimer’s Disease Program. Funding is provided by the 2019 California Budget Act. The content may not reflect the official views or policies of the State of California.