Using Blood Samples to Assess the Role of Nutritional Factors in Alzheimer’s Risk

Majken Jensen, PhD
Harvard University (Boston, MA)
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2017 to November 30, 2021
Alzheimer's Disease
Award Amount:
Grant Reference ID:
Award Type:
Award Region:
US Northeastern
Majken Jensen, PhD

I hope we may one day contribute a novel way to assess a generally healthy elderly person's 10- or 20- year risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

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Plasma Fatty Acids, Antioxidants and Alzheimer's Risk


Diet plays an important role in the development of many chronic diseases. However, we still don’t have a good understanding of which dietary components are most important for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In this project, we will identify key healthy dietary patterns that can form the foundation of dietary recommendations to lower Alzheimer’s risk. This is important because diet is among the risk factors that are modifiable; thus we can change our behavior and lower our risk of this devastating disease. 


We know that what we eat plays a role for health and disease. For Alzheimer's specifically, scientific evidence is limited and, so far, no authoritative dietary guidelines exist for the prevention of AD. In smaller studies, plant-based diets and diets rich in vegetable oils, berries, and nuts are associated with lower risk of AD and slower cognitive decline. These findings underscore the need for further rigorous studies that use blood levels, rather than self-reported dietary habits, to indicate nutritional intake of fatty acids and antioxidants.

We will measure a whole spectrum of blood levels of a variety of fatty acids and antioxidants in participants from the prospective Gingko Evaluation of Memory Study (GEMS) who were followed for 8 years. To elucidate the associations with risk of AD or other cognitive trajectories, we will measure 42 fatty acids and 10 antioxidants in 1600 participants. In a smaller subset of 180 participants we will also relate these blood biomarkers to changes in brain structure and function (MRI) and amyloid beta (Aβ) deposition (PiB) .

Because it is possible to change the plasma free fatty acid and antioxidant profile by changing dietary intake, our work may highlight minimally invasive markers for use as relevant new targets for preventive interventions. The findings of this research may thus lead directly to new strategies for the prevention of dementia. 

About the Researcher

Majken K. Jensen, PhD has a background in Public Health science, including  an MSc degree from University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a PhD in epidemiology/medical science from Aarhus University, Denmark) She joined Harvard T. H Chan School of Public Health in 2002, first as a visiting scientist and since as a postdoc. Since 2012 she has been assistant professor of genetic epidemiology & nutrition in the Department of Nutrition. She currently leads a research group with a focus on investigating plasma biomarkers (indicating nutritional status or biological processes) in relation to risk of diabetes, cognitive impairment, and AD. 

Personal Story

My postdoc research was mostly focused on cardiovascular disease and attempting to understand the role of certain lipoproteins for this lifestyle disease. I got into Alzheimer’s and dementia research through my work on the genetic background for lipids and cardiovascular disease because I noticed that many top-hits in genome-wide association studies of AD were located in apolipoproteins and lipid related genes. It was a natural extension for me, together with my collaborators who also had already worked on subspeciation of lipoproteins by their protein cargo for cardiovascular disease, to explore specific lipoprotein subspecies for Alzheimer's. My prior work also focused on novel biomarkers, and the two research agendas truly merged when I realized the urgent need for non-invasive biomarkers that may predict Alzheimer's disease risk.  I am very thankful for the BrightFocus Foundation and their donors for their support and truly hope we may one day contribute with a novel way to assess a generally healthy elderly person's 10- or 20- year risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

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