Widgets Magazine

NIH funds new Alzheimer’s Research Center at School of Medicine

(Courtesy of Sarah Staley) In addition to the hospital and medical school, Stanford medical researchers will soon be working at a new center for Alzheimer's research.

(Courtesy of Sarah Staley)
In addition to the hospital and medical school, Stanford medical researchers will soon be working at a new center for Alzheimer’s research.

Recently, the National Institute of Health (NIH) gave Stanford the final notice of a $7.3 million award to fund an Alzheimer’s Research Center, one of more than two dozen centers that have been established and funded by the NIH as part of an attempt to advance research about Alzheimer’s disease.

The new Stanford Research Center will use advanced technology to progress knowledge of the brain. In addition, the Center will study this disease with the top researchers in the field, including Nobel laureate Thomas Sudhof. Sudhof described the complexities of studying difficult brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“As of right now, all brain diseases are very hard to understand,” Sudhof said. “We don’t understand any of them. And that is because we don’t really understand how the brain really works. Because we don’t how the brain works, we don’t know how it doesn’t work in all these diseases.”

According to Sudhof, the brain is difficult for researchers to access as it can only be tested with memory or behavioral tests. Researchers can also take blood or spinal fluid samples, but even those are not very informative.

Nonetheless, co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Tony Wyss-Coray said that Stanford is equipped with a strong group of researchers to work in the area.

“We have some of the most outstanding neuroscientists here at Stanford,” Wyss-Coray said. “And we’re trying to recruit more [neuroscientists] to help translate their findings to a potential treatment. That’s not obviously as easy as it sounds, but it will help us learn more about very basic mechanisms and see if we can model them.”

Neuroscientists are given small grants to pilot their own projects using varying techniques. These techniques include advanced technology to be able to study in a non-invasive way.

“The advantage [of being at] Stanford is the integration between biological sciences, neurosciences and engineering,” Wyss-Coray said. “Frequently Stanford comes up with new technology, new ways of studying biological processes, and that’s what gives Stanford an edge.”

Sudhof’s project is to study synaptic mechanisms, or processes in the brain that transfer an impulse from one neuron to another, and how these synaptic mechanisms play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Another pilot is Wyss-Coray’s project to rejuvenate diseased mice by injecting them with the plasma of young and healthy mice. Yet another approach the Center is taking is to follow patients diagnosed at early stages of illness throughout their life so they can study how the disease develops.

“Cure is a big word,” Sudhof said.  “[This center] will definitely advance our understanding of the clinical aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and it’s a very good development for Stanford… So yes, this center will certainly have a positive effect on our understanding of this disease.”

 

Contact Chetana Ramaiyer at chetana.ramaiyer ‘at’ gmail.com.