Studying the earliest brain changes that could lead to Alzheimer's disease

September 18, 2009

NEW YORK, September 17, 2009 -- Five early-career scientists were awarded The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation/AFAR New Investigator Awards in Alzheimer's Disease. The $75,000 awards provide a broad array of funding in the biological, genetic, and environmental causes of AD. By studying the early changes suggesting Alzheimer's disease from different but complementary angles, the awards seek to accelerate development of diagnostic, preventative interventions, and treatments. The program, now in its third year, has provided more than $1 million to 16 scientists in the U.S. and Israel.

Award recipients include:

Ehud Cohen, PhD, Lecturer, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Roles of Peptidylprolyl Cis/Trans Isomerases in the Regulation of Aging and Countering Alzheimer's Disease

Dr. Cohen's research will focus on the possible roles of cyclophilins - a group of proteins that help other proteins fold properly - in preventing Alzheimer's disease (AD) from emerging early in life and will test how this activity is affected by the aging process. His research could answer the question of whether the maintenance of cyclophilin activity through late life could protect against developing AD and will help unearth the mechanisms underlying the onset of some types of familial AD.

Raquel L. Lieberman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Georgia Tech: Crystal Structure of an Intramembrane Asparyl Protease

Over-production of beta amyloid peptides contribute to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease.

The objective of this research is to understand the crystal structure of signal peptide peptidase (SPP). This protein is closely related to gamma secretase, the enzyme that participates in the generation of beta amyloids, species that are known to play roles in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Insights into these crystal structures could significantly further the development of structure-based designs for potential therapeutic agents.

Gad A. Marshall, MD, Instructor in Neurology, Associate Neurologist, Brigham and Women's Hospital: Amyloid Deposition and Frontally Mediated Symptoms in MCI

Although memory loss is the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (AD), behavioral changes and executive dysfunction often play a major role in disability. Dr. Marshall will use state of the art imaging techniques to better understand the biological underpinnings of apathy and executive dysfunction in relation to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mild AD. This may provide the opportunity to differentiate between patients whose MCI will progress to AD and intervene with disease-modifying agents, attacking the disease at its earliest stages.

Esther Oh, MD, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University: Oral Glucose Tolerance Test For Alzheimer's Disease Biomarker Development

The goal of Dr. Oh's research is to modify an amyloid blood test so that it may be able to determine whether someone has early forms of Alzheimer's disease (AD) or predict who may develop the disease among individuals who have certain forms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Since many cases of AD are diagnosed at more advanced stages, the diagnostic blood test, which could predict the likelihood of a person developing AD years in advance, could allow clinicians greater opportunity to intervene when drug therapy is likelier to be more effective.

Lucia Pastorino, PhD, Instructor in Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: Role of the Prolyl Isomerase Pin1 in the Modulation of PS1 Activity

Dr. Pastorino will investigate how the regulation of protein conformation may be crucial in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, Dr. Pastorino will investigate whether Pin1, a protein that regulates the spatial conformation of other protein substrates, modifies the functional activity of another protein, presenilin 1, key to the generation of amyloid peptides typically seen in patients with AD.

Read more about these grant recipients at http://www.afar.org/gilbert09.html

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease. By 2010, it is estimated that there will be nearly half a million new cases of Alzheimer's disease diagnosed each year with that number doubling by 2050. There are currently no treatments to prevent AD or reverse its effects.

"Aging is by far the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Researching the fundamental mechanisms that set the stage for Alzheimer's disease will help us get at the root of how this disease develops and progresses that could lead to a viable program of prevention and therapy, our ultimate goal," said George M. Martin, MD, Director Emeritus, Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Scientific Director of the American Federation for Aging Research. "The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and an anonymous donor who supplemented each award are to be commended for their continued commitment to supporting these promising young scientists with innovative approaches to tackling our most pressing public health problem."

"The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation has invested in an outstanding group of U.S. and Israeli researchers who have the potential to make important and lasting contributions to Alzheimer's disease and aging science," said Martin H. Blank, Jr., co-director and Chief Operating Officer of the Foundation.
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The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation (www.thegilbertfoundation.org) invests in programs in the areas of College Access, Healthcare and Israel. In addition, The Foundation funds Arts Education & Culture in Los Angeles, Jewish Programs in Los Angeles, and Universities in California. In the area of Alzheimer's disease, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation focuses its grantmaking on the advancement of research by junior investigators in the United States and Israel and investments in Alzheimer's disease caregiving.

AFAR is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support biomedical research on aging. It is devoted to creating the knowledge that all of us need to live healthy, productive, and independent lives. Since 1981, AFAR has awarded approximately $120 million to more than 2,600 early and mid-career scientists and medical students as part of its broad-based series of grant programs. Its work has led to significant advances in our understanding of aging processes, age-related diseases, and healthy aging practices. AFAR communicates news of these innovations through its organizational website www.afar.org and educational websites Infoaging (www.infoaging.org) and Health Compass (www.healthcompass.org).

American Federation for Aging Research

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