Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Winter 2017

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  • Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Winter 2017
    Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Winter 2017
    New Imaging Technique May Improve Understanding of Brain Changes
    On a Path to Early-Stage Detection of Alzheimer’s

  • President’s Corner
    Alzheimer’s Affects Us All

  • Become a Citizen Scientist with New Stall Catchers Game

  • Lifestyle Changes for Reducing Risk of Alzheimer’s

    Brain Food Recipe: Creamy Orange-Cherry Oatmeal

  • Who Are You Remembering For?

  • Ask the Expert: Is Alzheimer’s Disease Hereditary?

New Imaging Technique May Improve Understanding of Brain Changes

On a Path to Early-Stage Detection of Alzheimer’s

In work funded by Alzheimer’s Disease Research, Emilie Reas, PhD, is testing a new brain imaging technique called restriction spectrum imaging (RSI) to capture detailed images of brain structure at resolutions not possible with other techniques. This research is expected to significantly improve our understanding of the brain changes underlying cognitive decline in both normal and pathological aging, and possibly lead to earlier detection of Alzheimer’s.

RSI has shown promise at revealing smaller-scale features of brain structure than standard techniques like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Reas’ research will test whether new RSI-based measures can:

  • Identify small-scale pathways thought to be affected by Alzheimer’s.
  • Accurately predict which individuals will decline cognitively, and
  • Correlate with other known markers of Alzheimer’s.

RSI and cognitive testing are being performed on a group of healthy and cognitively impaired older individuals, with repeat imaging and testing taking place multiple times over several years. This allows researchers to determine whether measures of brain microstructure can track cognitive decline during this time period or predict who will go on to develop more severe cognitive impairment.

Reas shares, “This scientific quest became personal when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The importance of advancing research on dementia became painfully clear; without ongoing efforts from scientists, and support from the community and organizations like BrightFocus, the devastating impact of neurodegenerative memory disorders will only continue to worsen as our aging population grows.”

Advances attained through Reas’ research will ultimately facilitate the earliest possible intervention and optimal care for those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

President’s Corner

Alzheimer’s Affects Us All

With over 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s very likely that each of us knows at least one person with this mind-stealing disease. And the toll it takes on us, their family members, friends, and caregivers is just as devastating as the effects it has on our loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

At the start of every new year, we can be hopeful for research breakthroughs, greater funding, and increased awareness of the effect on patients and families. And this year, with a change in leadership in Washington, there is always the possibility of a change in funding for key health initiatives. We will work together with this new leadership to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research, remaining ever diligent in our fight for a cure.

With your help, Alzheimer’s Disease Research will continue to fund the most innovative scientific research to help gain a better understanding of this disease and one day cure it.

Thank you for your support. Together we will defeat Alzheimer’s.

Stacy Pagos Haller
President

Become a Citizen Scientist with New Stall Catchers Game

Accelerating Research

A new, innovative citizen science project called EyesOnALZ recently launched an online game—Stall Catchers—to engage the public in helping researchers analyze Alzheimer’s data. The goal of the project is to more quickly discover ways to prevent and treat the disease.

Stall Catchers is the first to use experiences similar to online gaming to advance science. Organizers believe that by participating in this “crowdsourcing,” you will help to accelerate the data analysis to get it done faster than if one researcher were doing the time-consuming activity himself.

“BrightFocus is proud to support such bold, innovative research. This study is a promising way to tap the power of the crowd to accelerate research to better understand, and one day stop, Alzheimer’s,” said BrightFocus President Stacy Pagos Haller. Alzheimer’s Disease Research is a program of BrightFocus Foundation.

The game will assist research scientists in examining blood vessels in the brain, and searching for “stalls,” which are clogged capillaries where blood is no longer flowing. In mouse models, researchers were able to reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory loss by reducing the number of stalls.

Scientists believe that identifying and reducing these stalls in humans could eventually slow the progression of the disease. Project leaders, concerned that analysis of stalls to develop treatment targets will be quite time-consuming, are hopeful that this new citizen science project could speed up the process by many years. The Stall Catchers game, in which players help detect and retrieve data on stalls, is open to all.

“All you need to participate in the project is a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone, and the desire to fight Alzheimer’s,” said EyesOnALZ principal investigator Dr. Pietro Michelucci. “We are pleased to partner with such a forward-thinking organization as BrightFocus, and honored to add EyesOnALZ to their legacy of game-changing innovations.”

Lifestyle Changes for Reducing Risk of Alzheimer’s

Research shows that exercise and other lifestyle interventions work to stave off normal cognitive decline seen with aging and, to a limited extent, might even help keep Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia at bay.

Kristine Yaffe, MD, a 2010-14 Alzheimer’s Disease Research grantee, is now one of the country’s leading authorities on preventable risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Lifestyle factors are so important,” Yaffe says, “even though they sound sort of soft. They’re not expensive, they don’t have side effects, and they’re good for the body too. So why wouldn’t you make lifestyle changes?”

What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Some 20 percent of all blood pumped by the heart goes to provide the brain with sufficient oxygen so that its 100 billion neurons can fire properly. Thus, for our brains to work best, any condition that interferes with blood flow—such as hypertension, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol—needs to be treated or, even better, prevented.

Exercise helps reverse brain shrinking and improves cognition.

The hippocampus, a region of the brain that is essential for memory, normally shrinks about one-half a percent each year after age 40. That’s part of normal aging; however, aerobic exercise and meditation may actually help to reverse this trend and “grow” hippocampal volume by modest amounts.

Keep your mind and spirit in the game.

Engaging with the world intellectually, through activities like reading and writing (even letters), has been linked to better cognition as we age. And emotionally, active social lives are linked with higher levels of cognition, whereas loneliness and depression are linked to cognitive decline.

Realize the benefit of a good night’s sleep.

Sleep cycles are when the brain clears out damaged neurons and toxic substance, like toxic tau and amyloid beta. Poor sleep may contribute to Alzheimer’s, while improving sleep habits may reduce risk.

Modify your diet.

A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fresh food, including berries and nuts, leafy greens, fish (at least once a week), whole grains, and olive oil, appears to be beneficial. Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a nutritional expert who coine the Mediterranean Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay diet, has published research showing that it may delay cognitive aging and cut Alzheimer’s risk.

Brain Food Recipe:

Creamy Orange-Cherry Oatmeal

Eating a diet that is high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and low in sugar and fat can reduce the incidence of many chronic diseases.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups milk or milk substitute
  • 2/3 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 2 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped pecans (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat milk/milk substitute and cherries over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. When simmering, add oats. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until oats are cooked and liquid is absorbed, approximately 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Add orange juice concentrate and stir thoroughly. Pour into bowls and sprinkle with nuts if desired.

Tip: Maximize the vitamin C content by adding the orange juice at the very end, after cooking. This oatmeal is so sweet, you won’t even need sugar!

Yield: 2 servings

Who Are You Remembering For?

Kim and Ashley Campbell, wife and daughter of legendary country star Glen Campbell, recently partnered with Alzheimer’s Disease Research and CareLiving.org in an online campaign called #rememberingALZ. We asked people to join us in remembering a loved one with Alzheimer’s by sharing photos with the name of a loved one written on their hand on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram, using the hashtag #rememberingALZ. Through #rememberingALZ, we were able to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.

#RememberingALZ was inspired by the lyrics of “Remembering,” a song Ashley wrote for her father to let him know that she’ll love him and do the remembering for him, even when words can no longer reach him. To see the shared photos and learn more about this campaign, visit www.brightfocus.org/rememberingalz.

Ask the Expert: Is Alzheimer’s Disease Hereditary?

Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) or early-onset Alzheimer’s is an inherited, rare form of the disease, affecting less than 10 percent of Alzheimer’s disease patients. FAD tends to develop before the age of 60. It is caused by one of three gene mutations on chromosomes 1, 14, and 21. If even one of these mutated genes is inherited from a parent, the person will almost always develop FAD. All offspring in the same generation have a 50/50 chance of developing FAD if one parent has it.

The majority of Alzheimer’s disease cases are late-onset, usually developing after age 65. Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease has no known cause and shows no obvious inheritance pattern. However, in some families, clusters of cases are seen.

Although a specific gene has not been identified as the cause of lateonset Alzheimer’s disease, genetic factors do appear to play a role in the development of this form of the disease.

Genetic risk factors alone are not enough to cause the late-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease, so researchers are actively exploring education, diet, and environment to learn what role they might play in the development of this disease.