UTHSC researchers secure $308,000 grant from Department of Defense for dementia study

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Repeated traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in soldiers and military personnel can cause behavioral, neurological, and cognitive effects and lead to dementia. There is currently no treatment for that type of dementia, but a $308,000 grant from the United States Department of Defense aims to help researchers at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center find one.

TBI can lead to the development of frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), a progressive process marked by atrophy of the frontal and temporal lobes. FTD is one of the most common causes of dementia in people under the age of 65.

Principal investigator Mohammad Moshahid Khan, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Neurology, and co-investigator Tayebeh Pourmotabbed, PhD, professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Biochemistry, are working on a project to find the first therapeutic intervention to prevent frontotemporal dementia or slow its progression in a mouse model linked with the condition.

The team is aiming to use a novel gene therapy called DNAzymes to target pathological tau aggregates, which cause frontotemporal dementia and its resulting cognitive impairment and progressive neuropathological symptoms. The team is examining the effective dose, frequency, and duration of treatment as well as its potential in reducing neurodegeneration and behavioral deficits in mice.

Our preliminary data suggest that DNAzyme is a novel therapeutic approach and has a great potential for preventing the accumulation of pathological tau. The results of this proposal would be foundational for future studies examining the clinical use of DNAzyme for other neurological diseases associated with traumatic brain injury and other tauopathies."

Dr. Mohammad Moshahid Khan, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Neurology

"DNAzyme is a powerful gene therapy technique that can be used to prevent production of proteins associated with diseases, like tau protein in Alzheimer's disease and dementia," Dr. Pourmotabbed said. "We have used DNAzyme as a potential therapy for breast cancer, glioma, and Huntington's disease in preclinical animal models with great success. Hopefully, with the use of DNAzyme technology, we would be able to reduce the risk of dementia after traumatic brain injury in veterans and other individuals that deal with this debilitating disease."

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