American Health Assistance Foundation Announces New Grants for Cutting-Edge Alzheimer's Disease Research

  • Press Release
Published on:

Scientists:

  • Examine the Role of Sleep in Memory Loss;
  • Assess Genetic Risks for the Disease;
  • Move Closer to Human Clinical Trials on Drug Therapies

CLARKSBURG, MD-The American Health Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds innovative, early-stage research on Alzheimer's disease, today announced it has awarded 19 new grants, totaling more than $3.4 million, to scientists worldwide. Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative disorder that destroys brain function and eventually leads to death from complete brain failure, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Currently, more than five million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to rise dramatically with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. An estimated 15 million Americans will suffer from the illness by 2050.

“The American Health Assistance Foundation supports the type of cutting-edge research represented in this year's grants, to help end a disease that is so devastating for patients and their families,” noted AHAF President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller. “Only through bold ideas and pushing the limits of scientific knowledge can we find better ways to prevent, detect, and treat Alzheimer's disease,” she said.

“Our grantees are building upon some of the major breakthroughs in Alzheimer's disease research announced in the last few years,” said AHAF Vice President for Scientific Affairs Guy Eakin, Ph.D. “Scientists are learning more and more about how certain cell proteins contribute to the brain function problems found in Alzheimer's patients,” added Eakin. “Once identified, these proteins can be targeted in drug therapies. This year, we support several projects that bring us much closer to testing new drugs in human clinical trials,” he said.

Other subjects addressed in the 19 new Alzheimer's research projects include strategies to protect and repair the brain, discovery of new genetic risk factors, and development of new tools for investigators. Some of the highlights include:

  • Can improving the quality of sleep enhance memory function in Alzheimer's disease patients? 
    • Other studies have suggested that reduced “deep sleep” during the nightly sleep cycle contributes to declining memory abilities in people with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment, which can progress to Alzheimer's disease. Ken A. Paller, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Northwestern University in Illinois will test the hypothesis that poor sleep is an important factor contributing to memory dysfunction. Researchers will analyze brain activity and stimulate deep sleep in study volunteers to see if memory improves. Results could increase understanding of whether memory function depends on certain brain events taking place during sleep and may suggest therapies to help protect patients from some types of memory loss.
  • Finding the Genes Contributing to the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease: 
    • Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami, her co-investigator Stephen Zucker, and colleagues will study large multigenerational families with Alzheimer's disease. Researchers hope to increase the chances of discovering a strong genetic risk of developing the disorder. Knowing the identity of Alzheimer's genes could help in the initial diagnosis of the disease, and lead to future prevention and treatment.
  • Testing the Potential for Human Clinical Trials of Drug Therapies:
    • A number of scientific breakthroughs have improved the understanding of how various cell proteins may affect brain function and contribute to the abnormal build-up of plaque and so-called cell “tangles” found in the Alzheimer's disease brain. Three AHAF grantees are zeroing in on proteins that could become the focus of new drug therapies in human clinical trials.
    •  One hallmark of Alzheimer's disease is the unnatural clumping of misfolded tau proteins into tangles in the brain. Kurt R. Brunden, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia will test a number of drugs on mice that have been designed to mimic the effects of Alzheimer's disease to see whether any of the therapies can prevent tau from clumping.  
    • Gary Landreth, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Case Western University in Cleveland will study a drug that has been shown to lower toxic beta-amyloid protein levels and remove existing plaques in the brains of certain mice that mimic the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers will test whether the drug, already approved by the FDA for other purposes, also prevents damage to brain cells in another type of mouse with Alzheimer's disease. If so, a drug that holds particular promise due to its disease-modifying actions could be put on a fast track for human clinical trials. 
    • Another Cleveland researcher, Kiran Bhaskar, Ph.D., of the Lerner Research Institute at Cleveland Clinic, has been studying how a protein, known as p38 MAPK, is involved in the development of tangles in brain cells. Bhaskar and colleagues will examine whether a new drug can affect p38 MAPK and prevent an increase in tangles.

For information on these and other AHAF grants, visit www.ahaf.org/research/grants. New grants include 22 research projects on age-related eye diseases, also announced by AHAF today at www.ahaf.org/2011VisionAwards.

To date, the American Health Assistance Foundation has awarded more than $71 million to researchers studying Alzheimer's disease, including the early work of two Nobel Prize-winning scientists. AHAF research funding has led to the identification of several new candidate therapies and drug targets, as well as greater understanding of the disease process. The results of one American Health Assistance Foundation-funded study, announced last week in the journal Science Translational Medicine, explain why people with a particular variation of the ApoE gene, called ApoE4, have a strong risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease. 

About the American Health Assistance Foundation 

The American Health Assistance Foundation (www.ahaf.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding cures for age-related degenerative diseases by funding research worldwide under its three program areas: Alzheimer's Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research. AHAF also provides public information about these diseases, including risk factors, preventative lifestyles, current treatments, and coping strategies. 

To learn more about age-related disease research, visit www.ahaf.org/research or call 800-437-2423. Stay connected to ground-breaking research news by signing up for AHAF eAlerts at www.ahaf.org/news. To follow the American Health Assistance Foundation on Twitter and Facebook visit www.ahaf.org/connect.


American Health Assistance Foundation's 2011 Alzheimer's Disease Research Award Recipients

The American Health Assistance Foundation awards grants for basic, translational, and clinically oriented research on the causes of, or treatments for, Alzheimer's disease. Grants are awarded on the basis of scientific merit of the proposed research and the relevance of the research to understanding aspects of the disease that lead to improved treatments, prevention strategies, and diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

  • Oxidative Lipid Degradation in Alzheimer's Disease 
    • Non-Technical Title: Oxidative Stress in Alzheimer's Disease 
    • Paul H. Axelsen, M.D.
    • University of Pennsylvania
  • Role of p38 MAPK in the Microglial-Mediated Alzheimer's Disease Tau Pathology 
    • Non-Technical Title: The Role of p38 MAPK as a Putative Drug Target Against Alzheimer's Disease Tangle Pathology 
    • Kiran Bhaskar, Ph.D.
    • Lerner Research Institute at Cleveland Clinic
  • Role of a Stress Kinase in AD Pathogenesis 
    • Non-Technical Title: Defining the Role of a Signaling Pathway in Alzheimer's Disease 
    • Narayan Bhat, Ph.D.
    • Medical University of South Carolina 
  • In Vivo Testing of Novel Tau Fibrillization Inhibitors 
    • Non-Technical Title: Inhibiting Formation of Alzheimer's Disease Pathology 
    • Kurt R. Brunden, Ph.D.
    • University of Pennsylvania
  • Soluble Toll-Like Receptors: Potential Anti Amyloid Beta Agents 
    • Non-Technical Title: Expressing Engineered Receptor Domains to Treat Alzheimer's Disease 
    • Paramita Chakrabarty, Ph.D.
    • University of Florida 
  • iPS-Derived Microglia-Based Gene Therapy for Alzheimer's 
    • Non Technical Title: A New Therapy Using Stem Cells to Halt or Reverse the Course of Alzheimer's Disease 
    • Biju K. Chandu, Ph.D.
    • The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
  • Association Among the Secretases: Model of APP Cleavage
    • Non-Technical Title: Interaction Between the Secretases: A New Model of APP Processing 
    • Allen C. Chen, Ph.D.
    • Brigham and Women's Hospital 
  • Role of Fibrinogen in AD Neuronal and Synaptic Loss 
    • Non-Technical Title: Blood Circulation and Neuronal Health in the Alzheimer's Brain 
    • Marta Cortes-Canteli, Ph.D.
    • Rockefeller University 
  • Restoration of the 3R:4R Tau Equilibrium as a Tauopathy Therapy 
    • Non-Technical Title: Restoration of the 3R:4R Tau Equilibrium as an Alzheimer Therapy
    • Michael DeTure, Ph.D.
    • Mayo Clinic Jacksonville 
  • Beta Amyloid-Induced Synaptic Plasticity Imbalance and Neurogranin
    • Non-Technical Title: Neurogranin as a Potential Therapeutic Target for AD 
    • Nashaat Gerges, Ph.D.
    • Medical College of Wisconsin 
  • Modeling the Intersection of Tau and Ab in Alzheimer Disease 
    • Non-Technical Title: A Laboratory Model of the First Brain Changes in Alzheimer's 
    • Bradley T. Hyman, M.D., Ph.D.
    • Massachusetts General Hospital 
  • RXR: A Therapeutic Target in Neurodegenerative Disease 
    • Non-Technical Title: Rexinoids: New Therapeutic Agents for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders 
    • Gary Landreth, Ph.D.
    • Case Western Reserve University 
  • eIF2a Kinase GCN2 as a Target for Alzheimer's Therapy
    • Non-Technical Title: Exploring a Novel Therapeutic Approach for Alzheimer's Disease
    • Masuo Ohno, Ph.D.
    • Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc. at IBR 
  • Entrainment of Slow-Wave Sleep to Improve Memory in MCI 
    • Non-Technical Title: Can Improving Sleep Help to Improve Memory in Alzheimer's Patients? 
    • Ken A. Paller, Ph.D.
    • Northwerstern University
  • Whole Exome Sequencing in Alzheimer Disease 
    • Non-Technical Title: Finding Genes Contributing to Risk in Alzheimer Disease 
    • Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, Ph.D.
    • University of Miami 
  • Role of SORLA in Transport of TrkB and APP in Alzheimer's Disease 
    • Non-Technical Title: Role of the Neuronal Receptor SORLA in Transport of TrkB 
    • Michael Rohe, Ph.D.
    • Max-Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine
  • Structure and Functional Analysis of Nicastrin 
    • Non-Technical Title: Defining the Structural Basis of Nicastrin Function 
    • Sangram Sisodia, Ph.D.
    • University of Chicago 
  • Structure of Abeta C-Terminal Domain in Toxic Oligomers 
    • Non-Technical Title: Structure of Toxic Particles of the Alzheimer's Disease Peptide
    • Peter M. Tessier, Ph.D.
    • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Role of Histone Deacetylase in AD Mitochondrial Dysfunction
    • Non-Technical Title: Revealing the Mechanism of Mitochondrial Dysfunction in AD 
    • Eugenia Trushina, Ph.D.
    • Mayo Clinic