FAU researchers receive grants to tackle Alzheimer's disease

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Three Florida Atlantic University researchers at the forefront of Alzheimer's disease (AD) research have each received a $350,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health's "Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer's Disease Research Program."

The Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer's Disease Research Program was established to improve the health of Floridians by stimulating research into the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care management and cure of AD. 

Florida has the second highest incidence of AD in the nation with 580,000 people ages 65 and older living with AD. According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 827,000 family caregivers bear the burden of the disease in Florida, providing unpaid care for their loved ones. Furthermore, estimates project that more than 720,000 Floridians will be living with AD by 2025.

The number of individuals impacted by Alzheimer's disease in Florida indicates a vital need to advance research, treatment, management and care as well as prevention to enhance the quality of life for those living with cognitive impairment and to lessen the burden for their families. We are incredibly grateful to the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer's Disease Research Program for providing these grants to our researchers. With this funding, they will shed light on the biological functions of AD by taking advantage of synthetic chemistry strategies; provide an innovative online screening tool for older drivers with cognitive decline; and gain a deeper understanding of the role of brain cholesterol in AD." 

Gregg Fields, Ph.D., FAU vice president for research

The Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer's Disease Research Program grant recipients, who also are members of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, are:

Mare Cudic, Ph.D., an associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and director, Honors in Chemistry Program, FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Science ("The Role of Glycosylation in AD Pathology") – Cudic's research aims to explore the link between two emerging topics, glycosylation and neuroinflammation, in the occurrence and development of AD. Protein glycosylation plays a vital role in mediating a plethora of biological functions. Because most known AD-related molecules are either modified with glycans or play a role in glycan regulation, glycobiology represents a novel insight into understanding AD and developing potential new therapeutic approaches. Results from this work will shed light into a relatively unexplored area in AD and open avenues for development of novel therapeutic strategies to curb the alarming surge of AD and other neurodegenerative diseases in Florida and beyond.

Ruth Tappen, Ed.D., Christine E. Lynn Eminent Scholar and Professor, FAU Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing ("Online Screening for Older Drivers with Cognitive Decline") – Tappen's research project is focused on developing and testing a rapid, easily administered screening test of older drivers who are experiencing cognitive decline. "Fit2Drive Online," provides an objective, evidence-based prediction of the older adult's ability to pass an on-road driver evaluation, which is the "gold standard" of older driver evaluation. The project will entail cognitive tests, which will be evaluated to identify those with the greatest power to predict on-road driving performance requiring the smallest number of items and/or shortest testing time. The selected tests, comprising Fit2Drive Online, along with the algorithm for predicting ability to pass the on-road test will be uploaded on tablets and tested on up to 350 study participants. This novel screening tool is expected to benefit individuals with cognitive decline, their family caregivers and health care providers, in particular, primary care providers.

Qi Zhang, Ph.D., an associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and a faculty of the David and Lynn Nicholson Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research ("Brain Cholesterol Dysregulation in Alzheimer's Disease") – Zhang's research project is focused on brain cholesterol and dysregulation that triggers dysfunction and neurodegeneration. Since 1906, research has been focused on proteins and genes pathologically or genetically linked to AD. However, more and more new evidence has revealed abnormalities in brain lipids, especially cholesterol, which is highly enriched in the brain and crucial for neuronal function and survival. Moreover, an isoform of the cholesterol transporter APOE is the most common hereditary risk factor in AD. Zhang's team will develop novel imaging methods to explore brain cholesterol in a mouse model, employ genome editing in human stem cells, and harness the power of multi-omics, an integrative approach combining different "omic" measurements such as transcriptomics and lipidomics. The project is expected to provide essential insight into brain cholesterol, AD pathogenesis and potential therapeutic strategies.

"Alzheimer's disease is an escalating global health crisis associated with enormous costs in terms of quality of life and health care," said Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., executive director of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, the David J.S. Nicholson Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience, and a professor of biomedical science in FAU's Schmidt College of Medicine. "For decades, scientists around the world have been working diligently to advance our understanding of Alzheimer's disease and other related dementias and to develop effective therapies. Drs. Cudic, Tappen and Zhang are among these dedicated scientists who are poised to tackle this devasting disease with their unique approaches."

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