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Investigating the blood-brain barrier

Staff portrait of Rich Beard
Richard Beard, INBRE fellows, photo by Priscilla Grover

The blood-brain barrier: though it sounds like a playful tongue-twister, its role in regulating which substances reach our brain cells is no joke. Made of multiple cell types, the blood-brain barrier is situated at the inner lining of the blood vessels within the brain.

“The blood-brain barrier is a gatekeeper that lets in the good stuff, like glucose, while simultaneously preventing stuff that is toxic to neurons,” explained Dr. Richard Beard, an assistant research professor in Boise State’s Biomolecular Research Center. “There’s a very fine-tuned micro environment within the brain that is easily affected by external factors and inflammation.”

For Beard, further study of the blood-brain barrier is critical because of the increasing evidence that its dysfunction is connected to the onset or progression of multiple neuroinflammatory diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.

The Beard Lab is focused on several topics, including what changes happen during disease within the extracellular matrix that surrounds the blood-brain barrier since the proteins present in the matrix can directly regulate barrier function. Beard’s research is being supported in part by a five-year, $10 million award from the National Institutes of Health to advance Boise State’s biomedical research endeavors, which is overseen by principal investigator and biology professor Julia Oxford.

Beard’s work with the blood-brain barrier also is receiving funding from the American Heart Association. To learn more about Beard’s research, visit