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Beacon Senior News

Colorado-funded research projects bring hope for Alzheimer’s prevention cure

Jan 28, 2020 11:15AM ● By Beacon Senior News

Committed to the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association funded six innovative research projects in 2019, investing a total of $2 million in research projects over the past two years.

The most recent projects are creative approaches to earlier detection of the disease.

Tracking digital biomarkers:

This project, led by Dr. Honghuang Lin of Boston University, utilizes digital technology to better detect the earliest changes that may be indicators of Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals taking the standard Alzheimer’s “clock drawing test” use a digital pen that captures data on the person’s movements, hesitations and other indicators, which then can be compared to data from more than 4,000 other study participants. Researchers will use advanced computer science algorithms (“machine learning”) to predict the cognitive health of individuals taking the test.

Stress impact on black African Americans:

The second study, led by Dr. Antoine Trammell of Emory University in Atlanta, focuses on black African American participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who take the drug Aldactone. Aldactone is typically used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure, both of which are risk factors that make black African Americans twice as likely as Caucasians to develop Alzheimer’s. The study will explore whether the medication will be associated with lower rates of cognitive decline and preserve cognitive performance.

These studies will be funded for the next two years, at which time the results will be evaluated to determine if the research warrants enhanced funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Support for T-PEP research:

The Colorado Chapter’s funds will be matched by the Alzheimer’s Association and the Rainwater Charitable Foundation for the Tau Pipeline Enabling Program (T-PEP). The goal of the research is to explore the many neurodegenerative disorders associated with the abnormal build-up and or spreading of tau protein, and to accelerate the discovery of potential new therapies for tauopathies.

“The funding of these projects is exciting for two reasons,” said Amelia Schafer, executive director of the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “First, is the enormous potential that each of these projects represents. These are new avenues of research that offer great promise.”

The local Alzheimer’s research funding is unique, Schafer said, because the Colorado Chapter is one of only a handful of Alzheimer’s Association chapters around the country that is directly funding original research with locally-raised funds.

“The substantial investment we have made in leading-edge research in the past two years has the potential to make a very real difference in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease,” said Tom O’Donnell, chairman of the Colorado Chapter board.”

Research projects funded by the Colorado Chapter earlier in 2019 include:

Gender differences in Alzheimer’s and gut bacteria.

People with higher levels of beta-amyloid in their brain (a hallmark of Alzheimer’s) tend to have higher levels of bacteria in their gut that cause harmful inflammation. Studies suggest that men and women have different bacteria in their gut, and women account for nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases. Dr. Hemraj Dodiya of the University of Chicago will study whether gut bacteria in male mice can affect immune cells in the brains of female mice, offering potential treatment approaches that could be applicable for human subjects.

A 3D model of the human brain to enhance research.

Much of the research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s is based on testing in mice, which does not automatically translate to human subjects. Dr. Catherine Verfaillie of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium is looking to apply genetic and technological advances to create an engineered, three-dimensional brain-like structure that mimics many of the properties of living human brains. It is expected that this model will be better at predicting a drug’s effectiveness in living humans.

Protein for the brain to restore brain synapses.

KIBRA is a protein associated with human memory, and it has been identified as being important to synaptic function. Past studies show that people with Alzheimer’s dementia sometimes have low levels of KIBRA in their brains. Dr. Grant Kauwe of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, will study how abnormal tau proteins can form toxic tangles that damage nerve cells, and whether increasing the amount of KIBRA can improve synapse function and memory, potentially leading to new therapies designed to protect nerve cell networks in people with Alzheimer’s.

All of the projects are being conducted by promising young researchers or scientists experienced in other fields who are bringing new expertise and perspectives to Alzheimer’s research.

To learn more, go to www.alz.org/co or call the Association’s free 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.