One of the biggest challenges in the fight against infectious diseases—caused by pathogens like bacteria and viruses—is that pathogens constantly change, evolve, or acquire new characteristics. In an evolutionary arms race at the molecular level, Michigan State University microbiology and molecular genetics researcher Shannon Manningand her team are finding ways to protect people with new vaccines and treatments by predicting how these pathogens will change.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health will award an estimated $9 million over the next 5 years to a new statewide center to enhance the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
The Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center, launched Aug. 15, will support researchers and clinicians from the University Research Corridor, which comprises the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
The new Michigan ADCC will be one of nearly 30 NIH-funded Alzheimer’s disease centers across the nation, and the only one that links three major research universities.
More than 5 million Americans 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, and another several million have other forms of dementia, including frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia and vascular dementia. Currently, no disease-slowing therapies exist for any dementia. The ADCC will support a wide range of studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias while also educating scientists, health care professionals and the public on the causes and treatment of dementias.
“This is a remarkable opportunity to leverage the combined clinical, research and educational expertise of our three universities to tackle this devastating disease,” said Scott Counts, associate professor of translational science and molecular medicine at MSU College of Human Medicine.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by two kinds of accumulated protein deposits: plaques and tangles. Much of the present research in the field investigates beta – amyloid, the protein that forms the plaques. The Michigan ADCC instead will take a different focus.
“We’ll emphasize studies of the many non-amyloid factors contributing to disease because beta-amyloid, though unquestionably important in Alzheimer’s, is already getting considerable attention,” said Henry Paulson, U-M neurologist and director of the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “The goal of all this innovative research across the three universities is to understand disease processes and develop better treatments for the various dementias.”
Researchers are also investigating strong links between dementia and other illnesses, such as cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic disorders and depression.
Once funding begins, they’ll be able to more deeply integrate with geriatrics, movement disorders and other programs across the three universities to develop new lines of research, in some cases supported by pilot project funding. As one example, the team is already working with the WSU Healthier Black Elders Center to advance understanding of dementia in underrepresented minorities.
“To advance Alzheimer’s research, we need to integrate data coming from various platforms including clinical, genetics, biomarkers and imaging data,” said Hiroko Dodge, U-M associate professor of neurology leading the ADCC data management and statistical core. “Our center will be able to provide unique and high impact science, taking advantage of our university’s big data initiatives and integrating their analytical approaches with clinical knowledge.”
The ADCC will foster career development of junior investigators, to prepare the next generation of experts in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The center seeks to provide training opportunities across many areas of research and at all levels of expertise, from high school students to junior faculty.
ADCC investigators at all three universities will also come together annually for a research symposium to facilitate collaboration and learn about each other’s latest discoveries.
“The collaboration between Michigan’s three Level 1 research universities and the integration of strong community outreach represents an enormous opportunity for the citizens of Michigan to benefit directly as they struggle to understand and intervene with persons suffering with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Peter Lichtenberg, director of WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and ADCC co-core leader for training.