New research projects include the study of age-related changes in the brain and the role of mitochondrial defects in causing Alzheimer’s
Irvine, Calif., May 23, 2005 -- The National Institute on Aging has awarded $9 million to UC Irvine to support research and pilot projects that focus on discovering the loss of cognitive function with age, understanding the mechanisms causing Alzheimer's disease and developing pioneering treatments. The five-year Alzheimer's Disease Research Center grant, which will support more than 30 UCI faculty investigators, renews an expiring $6 million grant from the NIA.
"We are pleased that the NIA is supporting our efforts to understand and combat this insidious disease," said Carl Cotman, principal investigator of the grant and director of the UCI Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, which administers the ADRC. "The new funding will allow us to push ahead with our work on the mechanisms of brain aging and Alzheimer's disease."
Alzheimer's affects almost 5 million Americans and is the most common form of dementia in the United States. Marked by the accumulation of lesions in the brain, Alzheimer's is the third leading cause of death in the country, trailing cancer and coronary heart disease.
"The NIA Alzheimer's Disease Centers Program is very competitive and when currently funded centers come up for renewal, there are many other applicants seeking to displace them," said Creighton H. Phelps, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Centers Program at NIA. "Applicants are judged on past research performance and future promise to contribute to the advancement of science related to Alzheimer's disease. Only the best organized and productive centers, such as UCI's center, survive these competitions."
Over the next five years, the new NIA grant will support three key research projects. One project will seek to determine which age-related changes in the brain underlie the decline in episodic memory that accompanies aging. The second project will test the hypothesis that defects in the mitochondria, the "energy factories" of cells, play a major role in causing Alzheimer's disease. The third project will test how the removal of plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease impacts the progression of the disease, for example how plaque-removal prevents the development of tangles that also are associated with the disease.
"Every year the grant will also support several pilot projects that are intriguing, but still need basic data," said Cotman, who is also a professor of neurology and professor of neurobiology and behavior. "For example, this year one study will seek to determine how small protein molecules called ubiquitin affect neurons and the functioning of mitochondria. And another study will examine how women respond emotionally and physiologically to the stress of caring for husbands with dementia."
Recent research by ADRC investigators at UCI revealed that exercise slows the development of Alzheimer's-like brain changes in mice. ADRC researchers also identified first that early accumulation of a protein called beta amyloid within the neurons of transgenic mice is the trigger for the onset of memory decline in Alzheimer's disease.
Established in 2000, the ADRC program is committed to pioneering research initiatives that use the latest computer technology to collect, organize and analyze large amounts of biological data. This allows the ADRC to tie more closely together basic research into early cellular and molecular mechanisms of the disease with clinical applications. Clinical insights also are used to inform basic ADRC research.
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