DU Researchers Explore Root Causes of Alzheimer's Disease

Delving into Links Between Alzheimer's and Down Syndrome

Though Alzheimer's affects an estimated 80 percent of individuals with Down Syndrome, little effort has gone into understanding the connections and developing strategies for treating dementia early. We aim to change that by bringing a multidisciplinary perspective to the Alzheimer's question.

Researchers will focus on development of the tau protein in individuals with Down Syndrome, using expertise from seemingly disparate fields of study to better understand how the protein misbehaves and forms the tau tangles that lead to Alzheimer's.

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About the Project

Alzheimer's is a notoriously difficult disease to study, due in part to its late occurrence in life after decades of development. Since individuals with Down Syndrome tend to be highly likely to suffer from Alzheimer's later in life, focusing on this group early in life provides greater opportunity for discovering tau tangles as they develop, and potentially opens the door for early treatment of the disease.

Also included in the study are exosomes, small discharges emitted from cells that can be tested by scientists using a range of techniques. Analysis of these samples could shed light on the presence of tau proteins early, providing an opportunity to treat the root causes of Alzheimer's in a way that prevents degradation over time and offers some reversibility in the effects of the disease.

A grant from the National Institutes of Health funds five years of research, including collaborative study with other research institutions both in the United States and abroad. Lotta Granholm-Bentley and Martin Margittai contend that collaboration is essential for the success of the project.

As scientific research progresses, it must begin to include perspectives from other disciplines that might inform more effective treatments and more equitable solutions to long-standing public health issues such as Alzheimer's disease. 

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Lotta Granholm-Bentley

Lotta Bentley

Lotta Granholm-Bentley is executive director of the University of Denver's Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging, and a professor in DU's Department of Biological Sciences. Her work explores aging processes from a neuroscientific perspective.