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Alzheimer’s research uncovers new idea

The USF College of Medicine caused quite a stir when results from a new study were published in the Journal of Neuroscience last month.

A $2.2-million five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging assisted researchers from the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Laboratory in a project to unveil some of the secrets of Alzheimer’s disease.

The new discovery stems from a research idea that emerged during a dinner between David Morgan, Ph.D., director of the laboratory, and colleague Dr. Jeanne Loring of Incyte Pharmaceuticals.

Morgan said Loring had already conducted research using a microray analysis to test active and inactive genes in Alzheimer DNA brain tissue.

“We decided it would be equally important to see the similarities and differences,” Morgan said.

Although researchers did not find the results they were looking for, several changes in amyloid plaques were discovered, Morgan said. Amyloid plaques in the brain have long been known to be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, although the damage they cause had been unclear.

“We thought amyloid disrupted memory because of tissue damage, but now we see it interferes with the process of storing new memories,” Morgan said.

Currently, the pharmaceutical approach is to try to get rid of the amyloid or to block amyloid creation, Morgan said. The new discovery provides a new way of trying to block the impact of the present amyloid.

“In my opinion, we’re not going to be able to remove the amyloid,” Morgan said. “If we can now determine the mechanism that the amyloid deposits, cause changes to, and how it suppresses them, then we might be able to block that process and improve memory function in Alzheimer’s patients.”

In addition to Loring, Morgan is also working closely with Marcia Gordon, Ph.D., and Chad Dickey, a doctorate student. The team hopes to identify the steps that occur between the time the amyloid plaque is detected and when the memory functions begin to deteriorate, Morgan said.

“We think amyloid is interacting with some protein on the cell surface,” Morgan said. “By working out the steps that are in between, we hope to identify a druggable site.”

The team’s hard work will no doubt add to USF’s long list of increasingly identifiable research efforts. The university placed No. 29 in the nation on the National Science Foundation’s list ranking total medical research dollars for public universities from 1998 to 2001. It was the highest-ranking Florida school.

“I view our success as representing how advanced USF has become as a biomedical institution,” Morgan said. “We have a lot of things here that we would not be able to do in other places.”