Highlights of Washington University Alzheimer's Research at National Conference


St. Louis, July 20, 2004 -- Stress appears to increase the severity of Alzheimer's disease.

That's just one of over 40 new findings from studies led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis that will be presented at the Alzheimer's Association's 9th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders in Philadelphia from July 17-22.

"Studies like these ranging from basic science to clinical trials are rapidly improving our understanding of this devastating disease," says John C. Morris, M.D., who is principal investigator of the University's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) and sees patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

"Each step brings us closer to our ultimate goal: developing effective treatments that will change the outlook from hopeless to hopeful," adds Morris, who also is the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology.

Highlights of Washington University's studies to be presented include:

  • Stress may increase the severity of Alzheimer's disease: When mice predisposed to develop Alzheimer's-type brain plaques were placed in isolation for six months -- a condition that mice find stressful -- they accumulated plaques more quickly and performed worse on certain types of memory tasks than mice allowed to live in the same cage as other mice.

  • Changes in volume and shape of a brain region called the hippocampus, known to be involved in memory, helped predict whether healthy older adults developed clinical symptoms of Alzheimer's disease within the following few years.

  • Changes in the shape of the hippocampus also helped predict which individuals with Alzheimer's disease would respond well to a commercially available dementia drug, donepezil.

  • Alzheimer's disease likely develops years before clinical symptoms arise. As many as 40 percent of elderly people without any clinical symptoms of dementia were found to have brain changes characteristic of Alzheimer's disease when their brains were examined after death.

  • In the future, it may be possible to detect Alzheimer's years before clinical symptoms arise. The level of the protein Abeta42, which may be a key factor in the development of the brain lesions characteristic of Alzheimer's, is being studied in the cerebrospinal fluid of middle-aged adults who have a parent with the disease to see whether it may indicate risk for later Alzheimer's onset. Preliminary findings suggest measuring these levels may help predict onset of the disease.

  • In a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease, a drug that is designed to clear deposits of Abeta42 out of the brain was found to help reverse damage to brain cells.

  • Preliminary evidence suggests people with Alzheimer's disease may be less likely to develop cancer than those without dementia.

  • In people who already have Alzheimer's disease, depression does not seem to make cognitive problems worse. It is generally thought that depression worsens signs of dementia, so patients with both Alzheimer's and depression typically are excluded from Alzheimer's research studies. However, in light of their compelling findings to the contrary, the research team at Washington University already has begun incorporating these patients into their clinical trials.

    Source: Eurekalert & others

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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