Alzheimer's Association's 2020 Zenith Fellows awards support new approaches to treatment

The Alzheimer's Association today announced a new investment of more than $1.3 million in three research projects focused on more effective treatments and protection factors for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

The Association's 2020 Zenith Fellows awards are funding:

  • A 35-country study of a gene that may reduce an individual's risk of developing Alzheimer's.
  • Preventing nerve cell death through a known Parkinson's pathway as a potential new therapeutic avenue in Alzheimer's.
  • Evaluating ultrasound as a therapy to stimulate brain activity and enhance memory in persons with mild cognitive impairment.

One of the most prestigious awards in Alzheimer's and dementia research, the Zenith Fellows research grants support senior scientists pursuing novel ideas that address the fundamental biology of the disease to discover new and better methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

The Zenith Fellows awards exemplify the innovative science the Alzheimer's Association is supporting globally. These awards accelerate progress toward treating and preventing Alzheimer's. We are pushing the research field to explore new ideas. The Zenith awards fund cutting-edge research that advances our understanding of the fundamental problems related to the causes and progression of Alzheimer's and all dementia.

These three projects in particular illustrate that we are on the verge of something truly transformational in dementia research as scientists unlock the mysteries of the human brain."

Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer's Association chief science officer

Each of the researchers will receive up to $450,000 over a three-year period. The 2020 Zenith Fellows are:

Susan Bookheimer, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Bookheimer and colleagues will test a new non-invasive technology to stimulate brain cells in the region of the brain impacted by early stages of mild cognitive impairment, a condition with a subtle memory loss that may precede dementia and Alzheimer's. The researchers will use low intensity focused ultrasound pulsation (LIFUP) in an effort to stimulate and increase brain activity. They will measure brain activity through brain imaging and test memory performance to determine whether changes in the brain remain after stimulation. If successful, this study could provide the foundation for larger and expanded clinical trials to further test the use of ultrasound to stimulate brain cell activity and its impact on memory.

Ted Dawson, M.D., Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Dr. Dawson's study is the first study to explore whether a protein known to play a role in a type of nerve cell death called parthanatos in Parkinson's disease may also play a similar role in Alzheimer's. If it does, it could provide a new therapeutic avenue to influence the progression of Alzheimer's by helping to delay or prevent nerve cell death. Dr. Dawson's lab will evaluate the role of a protein (Poly ADP-ribose polymerase, or PARP-1) that regulates specific aspects of the immune system and whether interfering with one part of its activity may help prevent nerve cell death. It's the destruction and death of nerve cells in the brain that causes memory failure, personality changes, problems carrying out daily activities and other symptoms of Alzheimer's dementia.

Paul Thompson, Ph.D., University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Dr. Thompson will investigate the brain changes at work with the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene variation known as APOE-e2, which provides protection against developing Alzheimer's. Dr. Thompson and colleagues will launch the ENIGMA-APOE-e2 initiative, a brain aging study across 35 countries to study the protective effects of the genetic variation in diverse populations worldwide. The researchers will measure brain volume and brain electrical activity from more than 30,000 participants worldwide in the ongoing ENIGMA Consortium study who have the APOE-e2 genetic variation. The researchers will also compare how the genetic variations affect men versus women for Alzheimer's risk. Results could help identify when and where this genetic change impacts brain functions and how it protects the brain from negative impacts of aging.

Alzheimer's Association's Zenith Society

Since its inception in 1991, the Alzheimer's Association's Zenith Society has funded more than $40 million in Zenith Fellows awards to 138 researchers in nine countries. The Zenith Society is a group of individuals and organizations that have each made philanthropic investments of $1 million or more to the Alzheimer's Association. Currently, the Alzheimer's Association is investing $167 million in more than 500 active best-of-field research projects in 27 countries.

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