The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) has awarded a $250,000 grant to NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island, in Mineola, to expand and accelerate research being conducted to uncover the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease, with the goal of developing new treatments and slowing the progression of the disease.
This AFA award follows a $100,000 grant in 2019 that began the cutting-edge research project.
The NYU Langone research study enables a team of clinicians and scientists to achieve what they believe is the closest approximation to brain behavior possible by reprogramming human cells derived from Alzheimer’s patients. Based on genetic information collected through a single voluntary blood donation from many patients, the team can distinguish where Alzheimer’s neurons diverge from healthy neurons, and from there take corrective action. This allows the team to then non-invasively explore the potential development of new treatments.
The study is led by Dr. Allison B. Reiss, inflammation laboratory head at the Biomedical Research Institute at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island and associate professor of Medicine at NYU Long Island School of Medicine.
Reiss is also a member of AFA’s Medical, Scientific and Memory Screening Advisory Board.
“The brain is the body’s most inaccessible and complex organ, making it extraordinarily challenging for scientists to develop new treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s,” said Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., AFA’s president and CEO. “This grant enables the NYU Langone Health team to expand the number of participants, perform additional cutting-edge work, and accelerate the pace of this very promising research study. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is very pleased to make this investment in hope.”
“AFA is pleased to provide additional grant funding to expand this exciting research project,” said AFA Founder and Chairman Bert E. Brodsky. “Having cared for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, I know the impact this disease has on families and how desperately new treatments are needed. We’re hopeful that NYU Langone’s research can make a game-changing scientific breakthrough that will improve the lives of families affected by this terrible disease.”
“This new funding allows us to quicken the pace of our work and include participants with only mild cognitive impairment, allowing us to study subtle changes in the composition and metabolism of neurons before advanced Alzheimer’s has taken hold,” said Reiss, MD, the lead researcher. “By identifying these early problems, we hope to correct them before they escalate and cause more devastating damage. We’re privileged to be on the frontlines with the Alzheimer’s Foundation in tackling this disease by working to identify new treatments.”
Reiss and her team have been gathering blood samples from individuals living with Alzheimer’s, as well as those without the disease. From each blood sample, the research team isolates exosomes that originated in the patient’s brain. Exosomes are small particles shed from every cell, including neurons in the brain.
These extracellular pieces, or vesicles, derived from brain neurons carry key genetic information. Researchers are investigating the differences in this genetic information between healthy individuals and those with Alzheimer’s.
The aim is to use the information gained to reprogram Alzheimer’s neurons to behave more like those in healthy people. The research team is also testing a number of drugs for possible repurposing and use in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as seeking new gene-editing approaches to treatments.
Of note is that the new grant will allow the study to expand the participant pool to include those with mild cognitive impairment. By comparing this group to the original pool of participants who have already progressed to full-blown Alzheimer’s, the earliest deviations from normal can be captured.
The study is also being expanded to include first-degree relatives of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the grant permits the team to accelerate the project by utilizing more complex tools to analyze the effectiveness of novel treatments to restore cellular and mitochondrial function.
Reiss is joined in this innovative research by a multidisciplinary team that includes: NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island’s Aaron Pinkhasov, chair of Psychiatry, and Irving H. Gomolin, chief of Geriatrics; NYU Long Island School of Medicine’s Dr. Joshua De Leon Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, and Lora J. Kasselman, assistant professor of Foundations of Medicine; and Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Professor of the NYU Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
According to Dr. Reiss, in the last two decades, only a handful of medicines were approved to treat Alzheimer’s, while the vast majority of clinical trials were halted. Trials typically rely on research first conducted on mice or using spinal fluid, and those often fail to replicate the complex neurological activity in the human brain.
That contrasts with research to find cures for cancers of the liver, lungs, etc., where it is increasingly common for pieces of tissue to be extracted for biopsies—and for profiling of cancer cells—to come up with optimal treatment regimens.
AFA is able to award research grants through the generosity of individuals and organizations. Those wishing to support AFA can do so by visiting www.alzfdn.org/donate. 100 percent of all donations designated for research go exclusively toward finding more effective treatment and a cure.