Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Winter 2018

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  • Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Winter 2018
    Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Winter 2018
    Major Study Sheds New Light into Causes of Alzheimer’s

  • President’s Corner

  • Clinical Trial Q&A

  • Researcher Spotlight: Stacy Grunke, PhD

  • Alzheimer’s and Assisted Living – Four Considerations

  • Healthy Recipe: Bean & Veggie Taco Bowl

  • When Alzheimer’s Affects Sleep

  • Innovative Alzheimer’s Project Is (Literally) Out of This World

Major Study Sheds New Light into Causes of Alzheimer’s

Uniting two schools of thought and accelerating future research

A groundbreaking study is providing a more complete understanding of how Alzheimer’s disease worsens in the brain, helping to unite what had been two separate schools of thought on the causes of Alzheimer’s, and accelerating future research into effective treatments and a cure.

The research was led by David Holtzman, MD, PhD, chairman of neurology at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Dr. Holtzman chairs the BrightFocus Alzheimer’s Disease Research Scientific Review Committee. As a neuroscientist, he has focused on the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene and particularly its ApoE4 allele, or variant, which is the strongest genetic risk factor for noninherited forms of both early- and late-onset Alzheimer’s.

ApoE has three common variations, and having two copies of the variation (ApoE4) makes a person up to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Although additional factors, such as other genetic variants, underlying health risks, and lifestyle differences, can alter the odds. People with two copies of the ApoE4 gene represent 15 percent of the general population, yet make up 40 percent of all people with late-onset Alzheimer’s.

Previously, it was thought that amyloid beta (Ab) peptide, and not tau protein, interacted with ApoE4 to magnify Alzheimer’s risk in affected individuals. However, the new work by Holtzman and others provides dramatic evidence that tau also interacts with ApoE4 to damage the Alzheimer’s brain. Dr. Holtzman told Science magazine, “This is a brand-new mechanism by which ApoE influences both Alzheimer’s and other taupathies, by affecting the innate immune response.”

This new understanding of factors that drive Alzheimer’s risk should help resolve a debate in the scientific community about whether the origin and spread of Alzheimer’s disease lie solely with Ab or tau, and convince more scientists that the answer lies with both. It is thought that Ab accumulation triggers Alzheimer’s earliest onset, but they now have clear evidence that tau exaggerates the damage. As a result, momentum is likely to build for research into therapies that stop or treat the deadly combination of pathogenic tau and ApoE4.

President’s Corner

Over the winter, new research proposals have been submitted to Alzheimer’s Disease Research and are being carefully reviewed. It won’t be long until final decisions are made and grantees notified. For researchers who have dedicated their careers to unraveling the mysteries that surround Alzheimer’s, receiving a grant gives them an opportunity to play a significant role in the search for a cure.

Funding research is the key to finding the answers needed to conquer Alzheimer’s. Thank you for playing an integral role in supporting the most promising research and allowing the world’s brightest and most forward thinking scientists to forge ahead. Currently, there are 99 biomedical research projects supported by generous contributions made to Alzheimer’s Disease Research.

Financial support is critical to enabling our scientists to go full speed ahead on innovative studies that might otherwise stay on the back burner, or never happen at all. As I meet our award recipients and hear the passion and dedication in their voices, I am even more grateful to you and all the generous individuals who continue to support
the science that will help us fight – and one day cure – Alzheimer’s. Thank you again for your support!

Stacy Pagos Haller

Q&A on Clinical Trials

With Dr. Mario Cornacchione, Northeastern Pennsylvania Memory and Alzheimer’s Center

ADR: What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering for a clinical trial?

Dr. Cornacchione: Thoroughly discuss your participation with the physician in charge of the trial and your family, covering potential benefits, risks, and requirements. Ask for a copy of the informed consent document on participation which you can read at home at your leisure. Make sure all your questions are answered.

ADR: Are there misperceptions about the cost of clinical trials?

Dr. Cornacchione: Clinical trials are at no cost to the participant. All trials are funded by the company who has developed the potential therapeutic or diagnostic being studied and nothing is billed to insurance companies. Nearly every trial compensates participants for clinic visits and for imaging studies.

This series of articles promoting awareness of clinical trials is supported in part by an educational sponsorship from Biogen. BrightFocus is solely responsible for the content of this article.

To read the full interview, and to learn more about clinical trials in your area, please visit

Researcher Spotlight: Stacy Grunke, PhD

Stacy Grunke, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine. Her Alzheimer’s Disease Research-funded research has been dedicated to learning why a particular area of the brain’s hippocampal memory system is severely affected early in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Grunke aims to understand whether there are mechanisms to repair the brain circuitry following damage to this area of the hippocampus to facilitate functional recovery of memory processing.

Working with her mentor, Dr. Joanna Jankowsky, Dr. Grunke’s research will provide the foundation for dissecting the impact of amyloid deposits on the sensitivity of entorhinal neurons to dysfunction, and to explore how aberrant amyloid impairs the recovery process. This line of research will help us to better understand what forms of plasticity are enlisted to cope with damage in this circuit in normal and disease states, and may, with cautious extension, allow us to guide patient expectations for recovery in the future.

Alzheimer’s and Assisted Living

– Four Considerations

When a caregiver or family is contemplating assisted living for a loved one, there are four main factors to consider.

  • Safety is the highest priority. If the individual has wandered, ask how staff monitors their whereabouts and if activities to keep them busy are provided. If they’ve had a fall, one-level living may be necessary.
  • Health issues, the ability to perform personal care functions, and social isolation may complicate the situation. So, consider how a facility is equipped to meet individual needs.
  • Behavior changes, such as increasing forgetfulness, confusion, episodes of aggression, sundowning, or combativeness, may make it impossible to manage care at home.
  • Burden on the caregiver and extended family also plays an important role in the final decision.

If you’re finding it difficult to make a decision, it is reasonable to tour facilities, talk to the staff, and reach out to local aging services organizations and other caregivers who are traveling the same journey and understand what you’re going through.

Healthy Recipe:

Bean and Veggie Taco Bowl

Simple brown rice and black beans serve as the backdrop for sautéed veggies and taco toppings!


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ green bell pepper, cored and sliced
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  •  ½ cup cooked brown rice
  • ¼ cup canned black beans, rinsed
  • ¼ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (1 oz.)
  • ¼ cup pico de gallo or salsa
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and hot sauce for serving (optional)


  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper and onion; cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are crisp tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Mound rice and beans in a bowl. Top with the vegetables, cheese, pico de gallo (or salsa) and cilantro, if using. Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce, if desired.

Yield: 1 serving

When Alzheimer’s Affects Sleep

Quality sleep is important for everyone, but the stress and symptoms of Alzheimer’s can interfere with getting a good night’s rest for both caregivers and persons with the disease. Because Alzheimer’s is often characterized by sleep disturbances, such as reversing night and day or waking up frequently during the night, sleep problems are a common issue facing many families.

To improve the care recipient’s sleep pattern, caregivers should encourage exercise and spending time outside as part of the daily routine. Staying active and engaged indoors with puzzles, art projects, and simple housework can also help. Keeping TV to a minimum and avoiding caffeine and sugar are also advised. In the evening, close window coverings, lower lighting, and avoid overstimulating activities. Be sure to install nightlights so there’s a safe path from the bedroom to the bathroom during the night to avoid the need for bright lights. If sleep issues continue, talk to your doctor about prescription medications that may help in some cases.

Innovative Alzheimer’s Project Is (Literally) Out of This World

Cosmonauts with the European Space Agency (ESA) recently spent some of their free time helping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Three cosmonauts participated in EyesOnALZ, a BrightFocus-funded research project that is the first-ever citizen science project dedicated to ending the disease. They played the online game, Stall Catchers, which enables people all around the globe to help analyze data in a Cornell University Alzheimer’s study. Each month EyesOnALZ has been accomplishing what would otherwise take six months in a lab. To learn more visit