Researchers at UT Southwestern, led by Dr. Marc Diamond and Dr. Lorena Saelices Gomez, are zeroing in on the root cause of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease – misfolded proteins in the brain – in hopes of discovering new diagnostic tools and therapies for the millions who suffer from neurodegenerative conditions.
it's a chief concern that comes with aging, memory loss. Today, two experts with our Peter O'donnell JR Brain institute are here to explain advancements and understanding diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's disease. Doctors, Mark Diamond and Lorena's analysis. Thank you for joining us, Dr Diamond. What is Alzheimer's disease? And how does it differ from dementia? Dementia is a large umbrella term that encompasses a lot of different disorders that cause progressive cognitive disturbance. Alzheimer's disease is the most common subtype of dementia and it's caused by accumulation of two proteins in the brain. One is called amyloid beta and the other is called tau and amyloid beta forms what we know as plaques and tau forms tangles in the brain, plaques are outside of neurons and tangles are inside of neurons. Dr sally says you were awarded a new innovator award from the National Institutes of Health for Protein Study. Tell us how your work relates to the study of Alzheimer's, Our lab aims to understand how the build up of this assembly actually forms in the first place. We aim to get atomic information of these early assemblies of fiber information to design specific molecules that bind to them for detection or for treatment to stop the formation of these fibers in these different organs. DR Diamond? How common is Alzheimer's disease? And and how is it typically diagnosed? Alzheimer's is typically diagnosed in older people when they present with cognitive disturbance. Typically that is memory but it doesn't have to be, it could be changes in personality or language and the diagnosis is now can be made very accurately using uh what we call biomarkers. Those would include blood tests, spinal fluid tests and imaging to reveal the accumulation of pathological proteins in the brain. Alzheimer's is actually very, very common. If you survey Pathology of patients who die over the age of roughly 85, The incidence of Alzheimer's pathology in those patients is somewhere around 40-50%. So it's quite common in older people. The degree to which the pathology causes symptoms is um is variable and there's a lot of other factors. Um but the the fundamental pathology is actually quite common in older people Dr Diamond, you direct our center for Alzheimer's and neurodegenerative neurodegenerative diseases here at UT Southwestern. Tell us what problems, what questions your lab is working to answer. The center itself is kind of an intentional environment if you will, where we've recruited scientists like Dr Silas is and and others to work on what we think of as the fundamental problem, which is a protein accumulation. A lot of the diseases that were interested in include Alzheimer's Parkinson's A. L. S and in this case that the accumulations are happening inside the central nervous system of the brain and by recruiting people who have very, very different skills in science. We can create a multidisciplinary team that has synergistic impact on our discovery of new diagnostics and new therapies, which is the primary goal of our center dr sally says, tell us about the questions that your lab is trying to answer and how you anticipate the answers to those questions being translated to improvements in patient care in my lab. What we are aiming to do is to determine the structure the molecular structure of this fibrosis or these shapes to understand how they form and we care about the early steps of the mechanism of five information and as well as late states of it and what we do after that. What we try to do after that is to use this information to design molecules that are gonna bind to them and these molecules can do two things. We can design them to be a detection tool for diagnostic purposes or to stop pollen memorization or further formation of these assemblies dr diamond, how are people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease? And if you know someone who is showing signs of of Alzheimer's disease, what should they do? What type of doctor should they see and what type of test should they have the state of the art right now, for diagnosis involves a blood test, a spinal fluid test and brain imaging. Once people show cognitive impairment, that means the disease has already progressed considerably, it's sort of like with metastatic cancer versus finding cancer localized. Um So our goal is to have biochemical tests that we could run preferably on blood. If not blood, then spinal fluid that would pick up the earliest molecular events, the kinds of changes shape shifts in proteins that dR sally says And I are speaking of the other really common cause of dementia globally is simply vascular disease. And obviously uh we've learned a lot from cardiology about how to reduce vascular risk factors and reduction of those risk factors applies to people who might have a contribution of vascular disease to their cognitive impairment. So even if you have Alzheimer's, if you have vascular disease on top that's going to make it more progress more quickly. Um so we'd like that's why an M. R. I. Is very important in the evaluation of someone with cognitive impairment because it can reveal vascular changes in the brain dR analysis. Well understanding these proteins and how they're assembled help us reverse diseases like Alzheimer's, we're not there yet. But I think there's a there's a lot of time and effort put into that particular topic because the idea is that once we understand how they form and how can how we detect them, we could also design antibodies or small molecules that can bind to them and make your brain clear them slowly, dr diamond. A hard question for you. So, do you think we'll have a treatment for Alzheimer's or a cure or both? I don't typically think about a cure in the sense of utterly eliminating the disease process. Just as we don't have a cure for high blood pressure Or type two diabetes or type one diabetes for example. Um However, just as we can control those processes and essentially eliminate them as causes of disease and disability in an appropriately treated patient, I think we can do that for Alzheimer's. That is to say, I think we can make interventions that will slow the process or halt the process of progression. Well, I want to thank you both for joining us today and for teaching us about the causes of diseases like Alzheimer's and neurodegenerative diseases and for all the great promise that you've told us the future holds for the study of these diseases. Thank you. Thanks very much. Thanks for joining us until next episode. Stay safe and stay healthy.