December 18, 2018

Tulane Professor Receives Funding for Alzheimer’s Research

Tulane Professor Receives Funding for Alzheimer’s Research

Tulane recently released information about one of their associate professors in the school of medicine receiving substantial funding to continue important research for Alzheimer’s.  You can read the original article here.  

There are 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, and the dreaded disease has caused more deaths than both breast and prostate cancer combined.  Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.  Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s).  Alzheimer’s worsens over time. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.  Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.

As if the diagnosis isn’t bad enough, Alzheimer’s and dementia have shown to have links to other serious diseases like diabetes, many times coexisting and making it difficult for patients to be treated appropriately.  When diabetes is not controlled, too much sugar remains in the blood. Over time, this can damage organs, including the brain. Scientists are finding more evidence that could link Type 2 diabetes with Alzheimer’s disease. Several research studies following large groups over many years suggest that adults with Type diabetes have a higher risk of later developing Alzheimer’s.  With the high rate of occurrence of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and dementia in the US, as well as the world, finding a cure is more paramount than ever.

Andrea Zsombok, an associate professor of physiology in the Tulane University School of Medicine and member of the Tulane Brain Institute Executive Committee, recently received a $334,000 supplement to her 2014 NationalInstitutes of Health (NIH) grant totaling $1.6 million, that supports research into the brain’s role in diabetes. The additional funds will supplement studies that are extensions of the original award.  The goal of these studies is identifying the activity of liver-specific neurons in a model of Alzheimer’s disease. Zsombok and her team members – LucieDesmoulins, Hong Gao and Adrien Molinas, Sierra Butcher and Cassidy Werner –are studying the autonomic nervous system, which mainly acts unconsciously and regulates bodily function. It also contributes to the regulation of systemic sugar levels. Research has suggested there is a high risk of developing diabetes if autonomic dysfunction is present.  The overall goals of the initial award are to identifyneurons, which are part of the brain-liver pathway, determine their activity inhealthy and diabetic conditions, and investigate the reason for their improperfunction during diabetes.  Without a full understanding of the mechanismscontrolling the brain-liver pathway, which is essential for the maintenance ofglucose levels, there is a barrier to understand the brain control of sugarlevels.

In a statement Zsombok said, “The knowledge gained from the studies may lead to new strategies to improve glucose homeostasis before the full development of Alzheimer’s disease as well as a better understanding of how disruption of the central control of glucose homeostasis exacerbates the disease pathology. Our publication shows that in a diabetic condition the neurons, which are part of the brain-liver pathway, are more active than in a normal condition. So, likely there are differences in the brain of a person with diabetes compared to a healthy person in a context of the brain-liver pathway.”

Zsombok described this process similar to when someone encounters a stressful experience, such as being scared. The body activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which leads to a domino effect of responses, including the release of glucose. This process would provide a healthy individual enough energy to deal with the stressful situation but, in many conditions like diabetes or hypertension, these people have already reached a higher activity level of the SNS, which contributes to the higher sugar levels. One of the goals of Zsombok’s research is to find a way to decrease the SNS activity that could be helpful with regulating glucose.

To learn more aboutAlzheimer’s research, visit https://www.alz.org/. For more articles similar to this one, click here.

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