Learn about the newly funded 2019-2020 Alzheimer's Disease Research Center pilot projects. These one-year projects encourage investigators to use ADRC resources to advance the understanding, diagnosis, or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
As published in Dimensions Magazine - Spring 2019
Douglas Barthold, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Comparative Health Outcomes, Policy, and Economics (CHOICE) Institute, UW Department of Pharmacy
Type II diabetes is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and insulin resistance is common in both type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Certain medications, including metformin, have been linked with improved Alzheimer’s-related neuropathology in mice and human cell studies. However, no studies have examined the relationship between specific oral medications for diabetes and Alzheimer’s pathology in human brains. To fill this gap, Dr. Barthold’s team in the UW Department of Pharmacy will collaborate with the ADRC to understand the biological mechanisms that could connect widely used type II diabetes medications to dementia diagnosis. They will use neuropathological tissue samples from the ADRC brain bank, which includes brain autopsies from participants in the Adult Changes in Thought Study of Kaiser Permanente Washington. Ultimately, the researchers hope to provide a basis of evidence to support the repurposing of existing medications for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related causes of dementia.
Erik S. Carlson, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, UW Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
The brain’s cerebellum plays an important role in coordinating circuits involved in emotional, cognitive, and motor functions. This area shows hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology in cases of early onset and severe forms of the disease, and it may be an important player in the very beginning of symptoms. The pilot award will allow Dr. Carlson’s lab to take their research in a new direction, moving from their basic neuroscience work in mice into the application of neuropathology and brain imaging data. Specifically, this study will use tissue samples from the ADRC brain bank to study Alzheimer’s-related molecular changes in the cerebellum. The team will then examine brain imaging data from the UW Integrated Brain Imaging Center to determine whether the cerebellum’s connections with other brain regions are impaired in people living with mild cognitive impairment or dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. The aim is to identify key changes in the cerebellum that may provide novel treatment targets for Alzheimer’s disease.
Judit Marsillach, PhD, Acting Assistant Professor of Medicine, UW Division of Medical Genetics
It is now possible to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in living people by using new forms of PET scanning or spinal taps; however, these methods are too expensive or invasive for largescale use outside of research studies or difficult clinical cases. A blood biomarker would offer a low cost, non-invasive option for identifying early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Marsillach will use this pilot project to study paraoxonase-1, an antioxidant enzyme found in lipoproteins (proteins that carries fat) in the blood and spinal fluid, and may show changes in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Her study will leverage blood and spinal fluid samples from ADRC research participants with and without Alzheimer’s disease. She will evaluate whether measures of this antioxidant enzyme can function as a diagnostic blood biomarker for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, to ultimately improve diagnosis and monitoring for affected individuals.
Image Credit: Mary-Claire King, UW