According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and this number is expected to reach 13.4 million by 2050. Presented below are experts at Mason who are searching for new ways to delay, prevent and treat this devastating disease.
Andrew Carle, Assistant Professor, and Director, Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration
Andrew Carle is an internationally recognized expert on senior housing who has written extensively about the best models of Alzheimer’s care including the 1950s inspired Waveny Care Center in New Canaan, Connecticut.
“Nearly 10 million U.S. caregivers struggle with issues of assisting someone with Alzheimer’s disease — often out of fear of moving the loved one to a long-term care facility. Assisted living has developed some truly innovative facilities for people with Alzheimer’s, but families are exhausting themselves because they think their only choices are between a nursing home or providing the care themselves,” says Carle. “Up to 40 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers report providing more than 40 hours of help a week, with nearly 60 percent feeling they were ‘on duty’ 24 hours a day during the last year of the afflicted family member’s life. And to make things even more challenging, up to 1.4 million people live more than one hour from the person they are helping.”
Robin Couch, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Robin Couch is a research scientist who is investigating the development of new therapeutics for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Couch is currently evaluating the effectiveness of neuroprotection, which involves the use of neurotrophins, or molecules naturally produced by resident cells in the brain, to defend the brain cells from death.
“Recent studies have revealed a significant reduction of brain cell death and a reduced rate of cognitive decline with nerve growth factor therapy. While these results are exciting and illustrate the potential of nerve growth factor for Alzheimer’s disease therapy, the most critical drawback is the inability of neurotrophins to travel from the bloodstream into the brain which means that invasive methods, such as direct injection or surgical implantation, are required to introduce nerve growth factors into the brain. To circumvent this problem, scientists are developing drugs that are able to enter into the brain and stimulate the resident cells to increase their natural secretion of nerve growth factor. Our research is helping to facilitate the development of such drugs,” says Couch.
Jane Flinn, Director, Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience
Jane Flinn is examining the role of metals, particularly zinc, iron and copper, in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients. She recently completed a study — conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey — that focused on the effects of enhanced zinc on spatial memory and plaque formation in transgenic (or genetically modified) mice.
“We found that iron significantly impairs spatial memory in transgenic mice with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Zinc caused spatial memory impairments that were partially alleviated by treating the mice with small amounts of copper. This is important because zinc, with copper, is recommended as a treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As a result, we have begun to examine metal levels in the eyes of people who have AMD,” says Flinn. “Also, as a general comment, mental stimulation and physical exercise are possible preventative measures for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Pamela M. Greenwood, Associate Professor of Psychology
Pamela Greenwood uses behavioral, genetic and computational methods to investigate the cognitive sciences. Her overall goal is to find ways to identify older individuals who are likely to remain healthy and those who are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease is the scourge of old age. However, we have reached a real turning point in Alzheimer’s research. For the first time in the history of the disease, there are drugs undergoing clinical trials which are aimed at possible mechanisms of the disease. The path forward is not yet clear but we can now start to eliminate hypotheses,” says Greenwood. “Pathological changes can be detected years before the neuron death which occurs about the time of diagnosis. This provides a window of time during which the disease may be slowed or delayed and investigations into ways to do this could yield real benefits in the near future.”
Dmitri Klimov, Associate Professor, Department of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
Dmitri Klimov uses computer simulations to study Alzheimer’s disease. His research focuses on the formation of starchlike protein assemblies that accumulate in body tissues called amyloid fibrils and their role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
“The design of drugs against Alzheimer’s disease requires an understanding of the formation of amyloid fibrils on the microscopic level. The molecular computer simulations performed in our lab have given us a much better understanding of this disease. Studying the interactions of ibuprofen with Alzheimer amyloid fibrils should help us to determine how this drug dissolves them and to develop strategies to enhance ibuprofen’s therapeutic benefit,” says Klimov. “I believe that molecular computer simulations are uniquely positioned to map the development of Alzheimer’s disease on a microscopic level.”
Mark Meiners, Professor of Health Administration and Policy
Mark Meiners specializes in the areas of aging and health, with an emphasis on financial issues. He is nationally recognized as one of the leading experts on financing and program development in long-term care.
“The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion every year. It is time to get a handle on these costs. Finding a cure is the goal, but until then, improved care coordination for Alzheimer’s patients and their families can go a long way toward bending the cost curve,” says Meiners. “Alzheimer’s patients and their families need medical and social service providers to work together in helping them cope with the stress of dealing with our fragmented health care system. Congress is beginning to support care coordination as an important part of health care reform, but care coordination needs to focus on the individual and engage interdisciplinary teams that include both health and social service professionals.”
Raja Parasuraman, University Professor, and Director, Ph.D. Program in Human Factors and Applied Cognition, and Chair, Neuroimaging Core of the Krasnow Institute
Raja Parasuraman is a world-renowned researcher of cognitive neuroscience and human performance in human-machine systems. He has conducted many studies using information-processing paradigms, event-related brain potentials and functional brain imaging both in normal populations and in relation to aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
“The number of cases of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is reaching epidemic proportions. Research focused on early detection, in adults in their 50s and early 60s, can help reduce the devastating health, economic, and social impact of this disease,” says Parasuraman. “There is hope arising from the convergence of scientific fields — neuroscience, genetics, and psychology — that an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to early detection will help in reducing the number of Alzheimer’s cases. Early detection of those at greatest risk can help in identifying who may best benefit from treatments that delay the onset of the disease. Even a one- to two-year delay in the age of onset can lead to a substantial decline in the number of cases.”
If you would like to speak to any of these faculty members, please contact Marjorie Musick at 703-993-8781 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.