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Conquer Alzheimers Disease

Jan Tucker: If we don’t conquer this disease, the cost of medical care will continue to rise for Alzheimer’s patients and have an extremely detrimental effect on health care reform of any sort.

I am a member of the USC-Keck School of Medicine Community Advisory Board for the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Project. A couple of days ago, we had an educational meeting in which we heard some of the latest research updates, viewed the technology used for imaging in the process of research on Alzheimer’s, and reviewed brain samples visually and microscopically. It was a fascinating glimpse into the intricacies of medical research procedures.

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Aside from my colleagues on the Community Advisory Board, USC-Keck has some tremendous people working on Alzheimer’s research. For example, Dr. Tara Rose’s bio points out that she “is a Research Assistant Professor of Social Work at the USC. Dr. Rose was the evaluation project director for the SAMHSA ‘Women, Co-Occurring Disorders and Violence Study’ local site in LA and for the Children’s Subset Study���.

Dr. Rose has 16 years experience managing longitudinal research studies with qualitative and quantitative components. At the Murray Research Center at Harvard University, she supervised the preparation of some well-known, classic American longitudinal studies of children and families for secondary analysis. Her specialties are program evaluation, underserved and underrepresented populations (particularly Latinos and African Americans), and the difficulties they face accessing services. Rose has expertise in data analysis, combining qualitative and quantitative data. She is working on her third book, Research Methods for Program Evaluation.”

Dr. Gatz is an Expert on aging and Alzheimer’s disease serving as Professor of Psychology, Gerontology and Preventive Medicine, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Director, Education Core, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Additionally, she is:

  • Fellow, American Psychological Association (APA), Association for Psychological Science and Gerontological Society of America (GSA)
  • Recipient, Distinguished Mentorship Award, Behavioral and Social Sciences Section of GSA; Master Mentor Award, Retirement Research Foundation and APA Division 20; Research Award, Alzheimer’s Association, Los Angeles; Award for the Advancement of Psychology and Aging, APA Committee on Aging; Distinguished Research Achievement Award, APA Division 20; Donald F. Kent Award, GSA; M. Powell Lawton Award for Distinguished Contributions to Clinical Geropsychology, APA, Division 12, Section II; Developmental Health Award, APA Division 38

L of Tucker, Margaret Gatz, Ph.D., Professor & Chair of the USC Dept of Psychology; R of Tucker, Dr. Carol A. Miller, M.D., Professor & Chair of Neuropathology; R of Miller, Tara Rose, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor of Social Work.

Dr. Carol A. Miller, M.D., is a Professor for the Departments of Pathology and Neurology, Co-Director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Director of Neuropathology Core, and Chief of Neuropathology, Los Angeles County USC Medical Center. Her research overview reads:

Neurospecificity is a key factor in selective vulnerability in neurodegeneration diseases. The laboratory of Dr. Carol Miller has focused on identifying and characterizing the function of genes selectively expressed or regulated in vulnerable neurons. For example, one gene, JNK3, a neuron-specific stress kinase responds to environmental stress. Defining protein-protein interactions of these signal transduction molecules has led to underlying mechanism leading to cell death caused by hypoxia/ischemia of strokes or amyloid (AB peptides) of Alzheimer’s disease. We have also identified several JNK interacting proteins, including one, DENN-MADD which functions in synaptic vesicle release but under stress, leads to apoptosis.

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Because of cross-interactions of many of these signal transduction pathways, Dr. Miller’s group is using microarrays which define regulation of multiple genes. We are combining these methods with isolation of single, normal or diseased neurons from human post-mortem brain and linear “in cell” amplification of the mRNA. Once normal neuronal subpopulations are characterized, we can compare those from diseased brains, including affected or spared subpopulations early or late in the course of the disease. Using bioinformatics, we are defining functionally related clusters of genes. We expect this approach to identify co-regulation of known genes and lead to the discovery of new genes. Our work links observations in experimental models to mechanisms operative in the normal and diseased human brain.

So what did I learn at the last meeting?

Alzheimer’s research is imperative for our society. Over 20% of all women will have developed the disease by the age of 80. Women develop the disease at around a 2 to 1 rate over men. If we don’t conquer this disease, the cost of medical care will continue to rise for Alzheimer’s patients and have an extremely detrimental effect on health care reform of any sort.

A 1980 National Institute of Aging mandate requires study of Alzheimer’s to look at the earliest stages of the disease in hopes that its progression can be arrested and/or reversed early rather than later. The earliest buildup of Beta Amyloid plaques in the progression of Alzheimer’s begins in the Hippocampus of the brain, which is in the front of the brain. It always seems to progress from front to back. Because the Hippocampus is where short term memory occurs, at the earliest stages of the disease it is easier from a victim of Alzheimer’s to recall older memories than what happened yesterday.

In 1986, Keck discovered that evidence of plaque buildup can be found in the retina of the eyes of an Alzheimer’s patient. The discovery was written up in the New England Journal of Medicine. Cedars Sinai (where I used to work) has developed a method of observing the plaque buildup in the retina.

What you can do to help

You can help Alzheimer’s research by making sure that your brain can be studied by science (preferably after you die) and by making sure your body gets to the Keck neuropathology department immediately after death.

It is critical for scientists to get tissue samples as soon as possible after a person’s demise. Some 21 scientists throughout America receive samples from Keck of various kinds through a national Alzheimer’s Research Project network.

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To find out how you can help:

Jan Tucker
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