Latin American and Caribbean research contributions to tackle challenges posed by brain diseases

Every year there are nearly ten million new cases of dementia globally, of which Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the most common form, accounting for around 60-70% of cases. This special supplement, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, focuses on the challenges posed by brain disease and presents significant research contributions from Latin America and the Caribbean that address these challenges to help improve the lives of individuals with AD.

AD is a complex, multifactorial neurodegenerative disorder that represents a major and increasing global health challenge. Neuroscience is making strides in unraveling the brain's secrets through translational research and drug discovery in order to improve the lives of individuals with a wide variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as AD, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, depression, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, and many others.

The complexity of the brain requires collaboration between multiple specialists from various fields of knowledge, institutions, and countries to advance the challenges posed by brain diseases. This special supplement puts a spotlight on productive and collaborative research programs in Latin America that are addressing critical challenges in brain research, all of which currently are making high impact collaborative contributions to the field of neuroscience."

Guest Editor K.S. Jagannatha Rao, PhD, Centro de Neurociencia, Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Servicios de Alta Tecnología, AIP (INDICASAT AIP), Panamá and Sistema Nacional de Investigación (SNI), SENACYT, Panamá

Topics highlighted in this supplement include biomarkers in aging and age-related diseases, especially studies that are searching for cost- and time-effective approaches to measuring these markers; novel molecules as neuroprotectants; cohort studies of cognition in Hispanic populations to identify aspects of brain disease that are specific to Latin American populations and/or shared with Hispanic populations in other countries; novel proteins and pathways in neurodegeneration, as well as computational neuroscience and alternative animal models for the study of neurodegenerative pathways.

"Taken together, these studies bring us closer to revealing novel drug targets and therapeutics and represent significant neuroscience contributions from Latin America," noted Guest Editor Gabrielle Britton, PhD, Centro de Neurociencia, Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Servicios de Alta Tecnología, AIP (INDICASAT AIP), Panamá; and Sistema Nacional de Investigación (SNI), SENACYT, Panamá. "The focus of these programs involves multiple approaches, in both clinical and basic research, because only through multidisciplinary work can we tackle the challenges posed by brain diseases."

Articles in this supplement include:

Carlos Velez-Pardo, DrSci, Neuroscience Research Group, Medical Research Institute, Faculty of Medicine, University of Antioquia (UdeA), SIU Medellin, Colombia, and colleagues evaluate the effect of a synthetic cannabinoid in a natural model of AD and provide evidence that a combination of cannabinoids and other compounds may be promising drugs in the early treatment of familial AD.

The degenerative processes in the central nervous system are characterized by progressive loss of neural functions associated with intellectual and/or motor impairment. In several diseases that mainly affect older individuals such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), hypoxia -- when the brain doesn't receive enough oxygen for a period of time -- plays a central role in triggering neurodegeneration. Jerónimo Auzmendi, PhD, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Farmacia y Bioquímica; and Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Argentina, and colleagues review the primary role of hypoxia in the development of inflammation and oxidative stress and the potential for interventions that are minimally invasive, such as erythropoietin (EPO) nasal sprays combined with other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds to fight against inflammation and other risk factors associated with brain diseases.

Severe traumatic brain injury, an important risk factor for AD, induces long-term hippocampal damage and hyperexcitability. A study by Luisa Rocha, MD, PhD, Department of Pharmacobiology, Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV), Mexico City, Mexico, and colleagues confirms the role of propylparaben as a neuroprotective strategy to prevent the development of AD in rats.

Vitamin D insufficiency is prevalent in various age groups in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly among the elderly. Vitamin D deficit and polymorphisms of the vitamin D receptor (VDR) gene are associated with increased occurrence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD. Carol D. SanMartín, PhD, Center for Integrative Biology, School of Medical Technology, and School of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science, Universidad Mayor; and Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Hospital Clinic, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile, and colleagues provide new information on the role of Vitamin D in cognitive function. They propose a role for vitamin D receptor polymorphisms in MCI and AD in a Chilean sample and include studies in peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

"Scientific capabilities and greater cooperation will be critical for the region to get back on the road to recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic," commented Dr. Rao. "Scientific capacity and investment are essential in order to respond promptly, especially in the health sciences."

"The most significant challenge is a lack of funding at the regional level," added Dr. Britton. "Latin America is one of the regions with the lowest funding in R&D, and yet there is great talent across countries in the region. Countries must commit to supporting scientific and technological development in brain research (and other areas) or risk 'brain drain,' the migration of young Latin American scientists to more developed regions."

"We can all agree on the importance of international collaboration for the solution of increasingly complex problems in areas of brain science, as well as on the positive influence on the visibility and impact of research results on an international scale," concluded the Guest Editors. "As such, the cooperation that is possible thanks to a special issue that brings Latin American researchers together favors both the execution of complex and costly research projects, as well as the publication of our results in high impact scientific journals with wide visibility."

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