Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Summer 2020

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Alzheimer's Disease Research Review - Summer 2020 cover

In This Issue...

The Relationship Between Sleep and Brain Health


Alzheimer’s Disease Research, a program of BrightFocus Foundation, funded research that discovered worsening quality of sleep in people who go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease. This research revealed an association between sleep deprivation and increased levels of two Alzheimer’s disease-related proteins in the brain, beta amyloid and tau. The deposition of these harmful proteins in the brain is one of the earliest signs of the disease, appearing 10 to 15 years before cognitive symptoms. Sleep protects the brain by decreasing the concentration of these and
other neurotoxins.

This research may help explain why neurodegeneration and poor sleep quality feed each other in a steadily worsening cycle. Disturbances of sleep and circadian rhythm frequently impair the quality of life and safety of individuals with Alzheimer’s. Insomnia at night, agitated behavior in the evening, and excessive sleeping during the daytime affect 25–40% of Alzheimer’s patients with mild to moderate dementia, and the intensity of these changes correlates with the severity of the disease.

Today, Alzheimer’s Disease Research is funding a number of additional studies on sleep, brain health, and Alzheimer’s disease in order to discover new approaches to slow or stop this devastating disease. With sleep problems reported in 60 percent of adults over 65, this research could impact a significant proportion of the population.

Steps To Improve Your Sleep

During the day:

  • Exercise daily. Walking and gardening are great options.
  • Get outside for fresh air and daylight.
  • Engage your mind through puzzles, projects, and activities.
  • Minimize TV.
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar and reduce salt.

At night, create a restful environment by:

  • Closing window coverings and lowering lights.
  • Avoiding over-stimulating activities.
  • Using nightlights to create a dim, but safe path from the bedroom to
    the bathroom.

President’s Corner

Perhaps no disease presents as many challenges to scientists as Alzheimer’s. The extraordinary complexity of the brain, the myriad factors that contribute to this devastating disease, and the broad number of problems it causes all must be thoroughly investigated.

Adding to this difficulty, the disease begins years before the presentation of any outward symptoms.

Because of you and countless other friends who support Alzheimer’s Disease Research, we’re backing innovative research that attacks this disease from every angle. There’s no telling when or where the next breakthrough might come from! But without friends like you, this research might never get off the ground.

Thank you for ensuring this vital work continues moving forward during these challenging times, and for bringing us closer to the day when we find a cure.

Stacy Pagos Haller

Researcher Spotlight: Maria Calvo-Rodriguez, PhD


Maria Calvo-Rodriguez, PhD

When Maria Calvo-Rodriguez, PhD, was a young girl, she used to play with a toy microscope. Examining the intricacies of tiny objects gave her a dream to be a scientific researcher. That dream came true when she began her journey in biomedicine, and then in the neuroscience field, where she developed a passion for Alzheimer’s
disease research.

“It’s exciting and frustrating at the same time,” Dr. Calvo-Rodriguez explained. “Alzheimer’s was identified more than 100 years ago, and while we’ve learned a great deal, we still have not found a cure. However, I’m so happy to contribute my part to this cause. Every little step takes us closer to our goal.”

Today, Dr. Calvo-Rodriguez is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, where she spends long hours in the lab using state-of-the-art microscopy techniques to observe the smallest subcellular structures.

Alzheimer’s Disease Research awarded a grant to Dr. Calvo-Rodriguez to study how mitochondria arrange themselves and adapt to the needs of astrocytes in Alzheimer’s disease. Her research involves imaging mitochondria over time in mouse models with extremely high-resolution microscopes. Using these images, she will observe how mitochondria in astrocytes “misfire” in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She hopes it will ultimately lead to the possibility of new therapies.

“Alzheimer’s is so difficult. Everywhere you look in the brain, the disease is causing problems,” Dr. Calvo-Rodriguez said. “It’s not just one thing going wrong, it’s many things. But if we can figure out where these problems start, it will open up many new treatment possibilities.”

Ultimately, Dr. Calvo-Rodriguez wants to help discover the mechanisms that lead to the pathophysiology underlying neurodegenerative disorders, especially Alzheimer’s disease. That dream began when she was a little girl and will continue for years to come—and she’s incredibly grateful for the Alzheimer’s Disease Research donors who make her work possible.

COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s Research Could Advance Together


Patrick Kehoe, PhD
Patrick Kehoe, PhD

Patrick Kehoe, PhD, a current Alzheimer’s Disease Research grantee, is the Gestetner Professor of Translational Dementia Research at the University of Bristol, UK. In a recent paper, he confirmed that the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) molecule played a protective role in Alzheimer’s disease pathology in a mouse model. Dr. Kehoe was among the earliest scientists to identify a connection between ACE2 in relation to Alzheimer's.

Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this research even more relevant because the primary way that disease gains entry to cells is through the ACE2 receptors lying on cell surfaces in the lungs and nasal passages.

Believing that the protective properties of ACE2 activity may ultimately prove relevant to COVID-19, Dr. Kehoe hopes scientists and companies working on a coronavirus cure will take a long view of their research by considering not just ACE2’s role in COVID-19, but also its protective effect against dementia. As knowledge about ACE2’s impact on different organ systems grows, some of this new understanding, and perhaps even new drugs, could advance Alzheimer’s solutions while initially serving as COVID-19 cures.

Caregivers Need Support

More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. In most cases, these caregivers are loved ones of the Alzheimer’s patient, and they provide roughly 18.6 billion hours of unpaid care annually. Even in the early stages of the disease, caregiving can be a demanding, 24-hour-a-day task. Help is available. There are:

  • Caregiving support groups
  • Hired or volunteer ("respite") caregivers in your home
  • Adult day programs
  • Long-term care in a residential facility(e.g., assisted living)

For more information on caregiver support, please visit

Healthy Recipe: Vegetarian Kebabs


  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 8 button mushrooms
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced into 8 pieces
  • 1 red onion, cut into 4 wedges
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Italian dressing
  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 1 cup of water
  • 4 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes, or metal skewers


  1. Place the tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, onion, and peppers in a sealed plastic bag. Add the Italian dressing and shake to coat the vegetables evenly. Marinate the vegetables for at least 10 minutes.
  2. In a saucepan over high heat, combine the rice and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, in about 30 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to keep warm.
  3. Prepare your grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack four to six inches from the heat source.
  4. Thread two tomatoes, two mushrooms, two zucchini slices, one onion wedge, and one green and red pepper slice onto each skewer. Place the kebabs on the grill rack or broiler pan. Baste with left over marinade. Grill or broil the kebabs, turning as needed, until the vegetables are tender, in about five to eight minutes.
  5. Divide the rice on two plates. Top with two kebabs and serve immediately.

Yield: 2 servings.

What’s New in the Alzheimer’s Treatment Pipeline

Currently, there are an estimated 132 Alzheimer medications being tested in 670 trials. Key areas of medication research include:

Disease-Modifying Biologics

These medications are produced from living organisms or contain components of living organisms. Vaccines and antibodies are two examples of biologics. Two anti-amyloid antibodies being investigated today are solanezumab and gantenerumab, while a third—aducanumab—could soon be approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer’s.

Disease-Modifying Small Molecules

Disease-modifying small molecules are designed to control biologic processes and interfere with disease pathways. Some of these molecules reduce inflammation. Others nurture the growth of synapses, interfere with the toxic activities of enzymes, enhance neurotransmission, or improve cellular energy production. Insulin-related molecules, dietary components, such as curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids, and tau-active agents, such as methylene blue belong to this group.

Symptom-Reducing Small Molecules

Many of these target behaviors that make caregiving for Alzheimer’s patients difficult. Marijuana components, such as nabilone or dronabinol; sleep-enhancing agents, such as lemborexant, piromelatine, and zolpidem; antidepressants, such as escitalopram and mirtazapine; and antipsychotics, including brexpiprazole and pimavanserin address chronic symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Research Equals Hope

While these potential new medications and treatments have not yet been approved, they show a great deal of promise for the future. If you are interested in learning more about clinical trials and possibly participating in one, go to

Important Update: Charitable Giving and Covid-19

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the CARES Act, removing limitations on Federal income taxes on how much of your charitable donations you can deduct against your income for all of 2020—no matter who you are or how much you give. Additionally, anyone who donates up to $300, whether they itemize or not, can deduct that against other income for donations in 2020 (considered an “Above the Line” deduction).

For more information regarding the many ways you can leave a legacy of support, contact Charlie Thomas at 301-556-9362 or or go to