New Grants for Innovative Alzheimer's Disease Research Announced by American Health Assistance Foundation

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  • Look at Repurposing Existing Drugs for Speedier Path to Patients;
  • Examine the Link Between Diabetes and Alzheimer's Disease;
  • Test Latest Discovery on How Distorted “Tau” Spreads in the Brain

American Health Assistance Foundation:

  • Cites Compelling Need for More Research Funding

Clarksburg, MD-The American Health Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds ground-breaking, early-stage research on Alzheimer's disease, today announced it has awarded 22 new research grants, totaling more than $3.6 million, to scientists on the cutting edge of discoveries about the devastating disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative disorder that destroys brain function and eventually leads to death. Currently, more than five million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to soar with the aging Baby Boomer generation. Every 68 seconds, another American is diagnosed with the disease.

“Only through research can we find ways to prevent or treat this terrible disease that threatens to harm our loved ones and bankrupt our families and our health care system,” said American Health Assistance Foundation's President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller. “That's why AHAF is committed to supporting bold ideas and investing in the most compelling and game-changing research.”

One newly funded project will carefully scrutinize a major Alzheimer's disease discovery announced in 2012-also AHAF-funded-that damaging “tau” proteins spread cell-to-cell in the brain. The project's meticulous inspection of exactly how and which harmful proteins develop and spread within the brain could bring medical science closer to understanding the phases of, and thus treating, Alzheimer's disease.

Other grant recipients will be studying existing FDA-approved diabetes and cancer drugs for their potential in treating Alzheimer's disease. If research on such “repurposed” drugs proves successful, it could present a powerful opportunity to rapidly translate the work to clinical practice.

Other topics in the 22 funded projects include early diagnosis, drug targets, and drug discoveries. Some highlights include:

Can a Diabetes Drug Fight Alzheimer's Disease as Well?

Steven E. Arnold, M.D, of the University of Pennsylvania, will conduct a Phase 2 clinical trial to determine if a common anti-diabetes drug has potential for treating or preventing Alzheimer's disease. Other research previously funded by AHAF has highlighted the diabetes-Alzheimer's connection, recently linking diabetes in the elderly to cognitive decline. Arnold's study will examine the potential role of glucophage (brand name Metformin), the most widely prescribed diabetes medication in the U.S., in making cells in the Alzheimer's disease brain more sensitive to insulin-and thus healthier.

Testing a Natural Substance's Effect on the Nervous System

The role of the common nutritional supplement glutamine as a novel treatment for Alzheimer's disease is the subject of research by Rutgers University scientist Karl Herrup, Ph.D. Glutamine is naturally produced by cells and is essential to the communication among nerve cells as well as other workings of the body. Long prescribed for lung cancer, bowel surgery, and other conditions including sepsis, glutamine has never been tested as a treatment for nervous system diseases. Herrup shows that in the Alzheimer's disease brain, glutamine levels drop. He will examine whether providing extra glutamine to mice would protect nerve cells and might indicate methods of reducing side effects of other drugs.

Charting the Transfer of Harmful Tau Protein

Alzheimer's research made news in February when two independent teams of scientists, one of them AHAF-funded, announced a discovery on how misshapen tau proteins proliferate in the brain. The teams' finding, that the proteins spread cell-to-cell, now allows scientists to focus on ways to target and stop this spread. Although the results have generated much press, confirmation of the observation has been a tremendous technical hurdle. Aiming to solve that problem is Jessica Wu, Ph.D., of Columbia University. She developed an ingenious way to test the tau protein's potential ability to transfer to and damage neighboring cells, eliminating many of the other factors that have confounded prior tests. By using microscopic chambers that allow growth and testing of isolated pairs of neurons, Wu can study the effect of a single sick neuron on a single neighboring cell. Such a finding would illuminate a new class of cellular processes that might be harnessed to prevent the spread of Alzheimer's disease within a person's brain.

As exciting as the new research is, American Health Assistance officials caution that if Alzheimer's disease is to be eradicated, more research funding is needed. There must be a greater public-private partnership.

“These are difficult times for the Alzheimer's disease research community,” said American Health Assistance Foundation's Vice President of Scientific Affairs Guy Eakin, Ph.D. “Finding government funding is tough now, and more researchers are looking to private funding sources like AHAF than ever before. But we can't meet all the need. We received 332 grant proposals, involving 700 scientists at 213 organizations. The projects we funded are impressive, but many promising proposals had to be declined.”

Added CEO Haller, “We're proud of AHAF's unique role in fostering breakthroughs in Alzheimer's disease research. To date, AHAF has awarded more than $78 million to researchers studying Alzheimer's disease, including the early work of two Nobel Prize-winning scientists. But nothing less than a national commitment to Alzheimer's disease research funding will crack the code of this disease.”

Haller cited as progress recent actions on Capitol Hill and in the White House. The executive branch is implementing a National Alzheimer's Plan, required under legislation passed by Congress, with a goal of preventing or treating the disease by the year 2025. A bipartisan group in Congress has also unveiled the Spending Reductions through Innovations in Therapies (SPRINT) Act, intended to spur public and private research funding.

With today's announced grants, American Health Assistance is now funding 54 Alzheimer's disease research projects worldwide, along with 62 other research projects on degenerative eye diseases. These include 21 new grants on glaucoma and macular degeneration research, to be announced by American Health Assistance later this month.

Since its inception, American Health Assistance has provided more than $120 million to fund research on age-related degenerative diseases. For information on American Health Assistance-funded research, visit

About the American Health Assistance Foundation

The American Health Assistance Foundation ( 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 or call 800-437-2423. Stay connected to ground-breaking research news by signing up for AHAF eAlerts at To follow the American Health Assistance Foundation on Twitter and Facebook visit

American Health Assistance Foundation's 2012 Alzheimer's Disease Research Award Recipients 

AHAF 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.

  • Effect of Insulin Sensitizer Metformin on Alzheimer's Disease Biomarkers
    • Non-Technical Title: A Trial of the Anti-Diabetes Drug Metformin for Alzheimer's Disease
    • Steven Arnold, M.D.
    • University of Pennsylvania
  • Endocytic Trafficking in Synaptic Amyloid-Beta Generation
    • Non-Technical Title: Endocytic Regulation of Synaptic Amyloid-Beta Generation in Alzheimer's Disease Models
    • John Cirrito, Ph.D.
    • Washington University
  • Novel Approach for Attenuating Microgliosis in Alzheimer's Disease
    • Non-Technical Title: A New Way to Decrease Inflammation for Treating Alzheimer's Disease
    • Colin Combs, Ph.D.
    • University of North Dakota School of Medicine
  • Chemical Approaches to Reducing Tau Levels
    • Non-Technical Title: Lowering Tau in the Brain
    • Jason E. Gestwicki, Ph.D.
    • The Regents of the University of Michigan, Life Sciences Institute
  • Mitochondrial Pathology in Tauopathy
    • Non-Technical Title: Tau Causes Neuronal Death through Mitochondrial Pathology
    • Mel Feany, M.D., Ph.D.
    • Brigham and Women's Hospital
  • Develop Screening Assays to Differentiate ApoE Isoforms
    • Non-Technical Title: Targeting Proteins that Increase the Risk for Alzheimer's Disease
    • Carl Frieden, Ph.D.
    • Washington University
  • Glutamine as a Neuroprotective Agent in Alzheimer's Disease Therapy 
    • Non-Technical Title: Glutamine as a Novel Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease
    • Karl Herrup, Ph.D.
    • Rutgers University
  • Role of Neural Activity in Alzheimer's Disease
    • Non-Technical Title: Role of Neural Activity in Alzheimer's Disease
    • Ksenia Kastanenka, Ph.D.
    • Massachusetts General Hospital, Alzheimer's Disease Research Unit
  • Mitochondrial Fission at the Synapse in Alzheimer's Disease
    • Non-Technical Title: Reversal of Mitochondrial Fragmentation as Therapeutic Target for AD
    • Hwajin Kim, Ph.D.
    • The J. David Gladstone Institutes
  • Role of a LDLR-interacting protein in LDLR, ApoE, and Abeta Metabolism
    • Non-Technical Title: Role of a Lipid-Regulating Protein in Alzheimer's Disease Pathogenesis
    • Jungsu Kim, Ph.D.
  • Washington University
    • Novel CNS Transporter Target in Alzheimer's Disease
    • Non-Technical Title: Novel Drug Target for Alzheimer's Disease
    • Tae-Wan Kim, Ph.D.
    • Columbia University Medical Center
  • Testing of Group II mGluR Antagonist s a Potential AD Treatment
    • Non-Technical Title: Testing of a New Drug that Reduces Toxic Alzheimer's Protein and Improves Cognition
    • Soong Ho Kim Ph.D.
    • Mount Sinai School of Medicine
  • Correcting Synapse Loss in the Alzheimer's Disease Brain
    • Non-Technical Title: Correcting the Loss of Brain Connectivity in Alzheimer's Disease
    • Seth Margolis, Ph.D.
    • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • Mechanism of RIP-1 in Mediating Abeta Neurotoxicity
    • Non-Technical Title: A New Target for the Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease
    • Sonia Mazzitelli, Ph.D.
    • Harvard Medical School
  • Functional Interaction of APP-CTF with G-alphaS in Brain
    • Non-Technical Title: Interaction Between Amyloid and G-Protein Signaling in Brain
    • Angèle Parent, Ph.D.
    • The University of Chicago
  • Role of microRNAs in Tangle-Predominant Alzheimer's Disease
    • Non-Technical Title: MicroRNAs and Tau Gene Expression Regulation
    • Ismael Santa-Maria Perez, Ph.D.
    • Columbia University Medical Center
  • Stress Granule Pathways in TDP-43 Toxicity
    • Non-Technical Title: The Role Of RNA Granules in Neurodegenerative Disease
    • Alya Raphael, Ph.D.
    • Stanford University
  • Predicting Future Alzheimer's Disease Onset Based on MRI and Genotype
    • Non-Technical Title: MRI- and DNA-Based Detection of Alzheimer's Risk Before Symptoms Appear
    • Mert Sabuncu, Ph.D.
    • Massachusetts General Hospital
  • BACE1 and Axon Guidance
    • Non-Technical Title: The role of the Alzheimer's enzyme BACE1 in brain wiring
    • Robert Vassar, Ph.D.
    • Northwestern University
  • RNA Binding Proteins in Alzheimer's Disease 
    • Non-Technical Title: RNA Binding Proteins in Alzheimer's Disease
    • Benjamin Wolozin M.D., Ph.D.
    • Boston University Medical Center
  • Conformation-Dependent Uptake and Secretion Of Tau 
    • Non-Technical Title: Identifying the Mechanism By Which Misfolded Tau Is Secreted and Taken Up In Neurons
    • Jessica Wu, Ph.D.
    • Columbia University Medical Center
  • Tau Homeostasis Via Proteasomal and Autophagic Activity
    • Non-Technical Title: How Brain Cells Take Away Garbage, and Is It Possible to Improve This Function?
    • W. Haung (Ho) Yu, Ph.D.
    • Columbia University Medical Center