One of my favorite things to do as the CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association is present research checks to young scientists who are exploring innovative ways to tackle Alzheimer’s disease. I did just that yesterday at the UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento in the proud company of some of our most fervent supporters and volunteers.
The funding from the Alzheimer’s Association made possible by a generous gift from the Driskill Foundation, went to Izumi Maezawa, Ph.D., a researcher who started as a pharmacist in Japan before she became interested in Alzheimer’s research.
In the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the protein fragment beta-amyloid tends to accumulate into clumps called plaques. Much Alzheimer research is devoted to studying ways of clearing beta-amyloid from the brain before it accumulates. Dr. Maezawa’s research focuses on the functioning of brain cells called microglia, which act as part of the immune system. Microglia clear various unwanted proteins from the brain – including beta-amyloid.
However, microglia also release toxic chemicals that promote brain inflammation, which can both initiate Alzheimer’s and hasten its progression. Some investigators believe that an effective Alzheimer’s therapy should utilize the amyloid-clearing ability of microglia, while blocking microglia-induced inflammation.
Dr. Maezawa and her colleagues identified a molecular channel – a series of chemical reactions – that may be involved in activating microglia. Blocking this channel, known as Kv1.3, prevented microglia in mice brains from causing inflammation without hindering the cells’ ability to clear beta-amyloid. For this proposed study, the researchers hope to confirm and expand these promising early results.
Results of this study will help understand the complex role of microglia in brain disease. The work may also identify a novel Alzheimer’s therapy for use in human clinical trials.
As I handed Dr. Maezawa the research grant check, she thanked the Association and the Driskill Foundation, noting that this particular grant was critically important to her and her work. Indeed it will serve as the first step in establishing her research career and lead to findings that young scientists need to qualify for expanded Federal funding.
As we talked about here before, NIH/NIA funding for Alzheimer’s science is woefully inadequate to the problem before us. The Alzheimer’s Association has a long history of providing New Investigator Grants to give young scientists a “leg up” in their work. I’m proud that our organization is able to help launch young scientists like Dr. Maezawa into careers that will help our understanding of this disease and possibly one day lead us to a treatment or definitive means of prevention.
For more about our research program, visit www.alz.org/research.
To see more photos from the check presentation, visit us on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28063325@N07/sets/72157626568026055/show/