University of Denver Researcher Receives Alzheimer’s Association Grant

Aurelie_Microscope_DU research grant.jpgA researcher from the University of Denver has been awarded a grant of $150,000 over three years from the Alzheimer’s Association for an investigation of whether changes in protein levels from an individual’s blood can be measured to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Aurélie Ledreux, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at the Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging at University of Denver, received the Alzheimer’s Association grant to examine disease-related changes in levels of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) specific biological markers, or “biomarkers.”

“If successful, this research could form the basis of a safe and inexpensive blood test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s at its earliest stages,” said Dr. Ledreux. “By detecting Alzheimer’s early using blood tests, we may be able to better treat people with the disease. And with early detection, when new therapies become available, we will be in a better position to know who needs treatment at the earliest point in time.”

According to Dr. Ledreux, two biomarkers (tau and amyloid-beta) can be detected in small vesicles called exosomes that are produced by most cells and can be found in blood. For examples, in the brain, neurons produce exosomes (termed neuron-derived exosomes) that contain proteins and lipids that capture their cell of origin health or disease status. Recent studies have demonstrated that it is possible to isolate these neuron-derived exosomes from blood, and measure how much amyloid-beta and tau they contain.

“This has been found to correlate well with the degree of cognitive decline in AD, and thus would make the neuron-derived exosomes a good biomarker for AD,” she said. “However, we don’t know if these exosomes isolated from blood reflect what truly goes on in the brain. My research will determine if changes in the brains of patients with dementia are reflected in parallel changes in exosomes isolated from their blood.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s research in the world, ranking behind only the governments of the United States and China in the total impact of research funding. Since 1982, the Alzheimer’s Association has funded more than 2,700 scientific investigations with $410 million. More than 400 of these research projects are currently active in 19 countries totaling more than $110 million.

“There are three primary categories of Alzheimer’s research: assessing people’s risk of developing the disease, effective methods of diagnosis, and treatment of persons living with the disease,” said Amelia Schafer, acting executive director of the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Finding an effective, minimally invasive means of diagnosing the disease early in its progression would be invaluable for helping individuals with the diagnosis, as well as their caregivers, take full advantage of therapies and resources that can improve and maximize their quality of life,” said Schafer.

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