New Grant Supports Innovative Research
November 10, 2017
A $150,000 grant from Cure Alzheimer’s Fund will support the work of Ryan Institute Executive Director Paula Grammas in her pioneering investigation into the role of blood vessels in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Contingent upon the first year of progress, a subsequent six months of funding ($56,404) will support additional research.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, currently affecting an estimated 5 million Americans and their families. Its symptoms, including memory loss, agitation, depression, and confusion, are caused by the gradual death of neurons in the brain. Yet after decades of intensive research, the causes of neuron death remain partially unclear, and there are no medications or therapies to prevent or slow the death of neurons. “Alzheimer’s disease research has been dominated by studies on the amyloid-beta and tau proteins, which form the plaques and tangles seen in the brains of patients,” says Grammas, also Thomas M. Ryan Professor of Neuroscience at URI. “For more than 30 years, our lab has been one of a very few investigating other ideas about what causes the disease. In our case, we’ve found important evidence that the blood vessels in the brain are involved in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The Grammas lab was the first to discover that injury to microscopic blood vessels in the brain causes them to become “activated,” secreting neurotoxic proteins and other molecules. Under the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund grant, Grammas will focus on this activation process, working with a transgenic animal model of Alzheimer’s disease to explore whether specific causes of blood vessel injury––such as high blood sugar, elevated cholesterol, and elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine––are linked to the release of neurotoxins. “As we get a better understanding of what happens in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, we are also developing new ideas on how to slow down, or maybe even stop or prevent the disease, and that is the real purpose of our research,” said Grammas.
Based in Wellesley, Mass., Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (www.curealz.org) marshals private philanthropy to support research in pursuit of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island is a multidisciplinary research center focused on discovering and developing disease-modifying therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.