1 in 5
An epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease is coming over the horizon unless research can forestall it with the discovery of the underlying processes that cause the disease. Otherwise, it will prey on millions, robbing them of memory, personality, and, inevitably, functionality. Researchers have identified promising pathways along which they are seeking targets that will prevent, arrest, and, ultimately, cure this insidious disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is an experience that is all too well known by its many victims and the loved ones who care for them. From the terrifying disappearance of memory to the eventual loss of all basic cognitive functions, its unrelenting course is inevitable. Innovative research at the LDI is contributing to a better understanding of this devastating disease.
Dr. Howard Chertkow, director of the Aging Research Program, was one of the developers of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), a simple-to-administer test that differentiates between the expected memory function of an elderly brain and mild cognitive impairment that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
“There was really nothing that allowed doctors to make this particular distinction before MoCA,” Dr. Chertkow said. “It allows physicians to make an earlier and faster diagnosis of memory impairment.”
The developers of MoCA decided to make the test freely available to all physicians to aid in diagnosis of memory problems. It has been translated into 32 languages, and has become a world standard for diagnosing cognitive decline.
For almost two decades, Dr. Andréa LeBlanc has been honing in on one particular enzyme, Caspase-6, as a potential root cause for Alzheimer’s disease, progressing to where she is now recognized as the foremost researcher on this very promising pathway.
“While others were focusing on amyloid plaques as a cause, I considered the possibility that amyloid was a consequence of the disease, and that Caspase-6, of which we find elevated levels early in the emergence of Alzheimer’s disease, was an instigator,” she says. “It wasn’t obvious at first, but eventually we determined that this was the most promising pathway to follow.”
Dr. Hyman Schipper has identified a potential trigger – elevated levels of an enzyme known as heme oxygenaze 1 (HO1) that appear early in the on-set of cognitive impairment.
“We don’t think this is a cause of Alzheimer’s, but it appears that it is a crucial component in the chain of events that bring on the progressive deterioration culminating in the disease,” he explains. “Even without knowing the precise cause, if we can interrupt those processes that bring about Alzheimer’s, we hope to slow or stop its progress and help patients retain cognitive function.”
He goes on, “Right now, our most pressing need is to advance to where we can test HO1 inhibiters on humans. It is very expensive just to initiate a Phase I trial, which is designed to measure the toxicity of the compound. Given that there are currently no medications which have a proven capacity to halt or reverse Alzheimer’s, it is important that we be able to move forward with our research as rapidly as possible.” The fundraising campaign in support of the JGH Alzheimer’s disease Program is spearheaded by Dorothy Reitman, C.M.
Aging Research Axis
The Aging Research Axis is the largest program of its type in
Primary themes include: cognitive neurosciences and Alzheimer’s disease, molecular and cellular biology of aging, and biological and clinical studies of aging bones.
It has an active clinical component addressing cognitive impairment, neuro-imaging of stroke and dementia, and health services delivery for the elderly. Many of these activities are brought together in the Bloomfield Centre for Research in Aging. Members of the axis hold primary academic appointments within the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Medicine, Surgery, and Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill.
Drs. Howard Chertkow and Hyman Schipper are pursuing ground-breaking work to identify the predictors and causes of dementia, conditions which will reach crisis proportions as our population continues to age. By exploring the molecular and cellular biology of aging, Drs. Chantal Autexier, Andréa Leblanc and Hemant Paudel are seeking to identify those mechanisms controlling the survival and demise of cells, which could hold the key to a number of age-related conditions. Dr. Alexander Thiel is employing the most advanced imaging techniques to gain new insights into how to maximize recovery following a stroke. Dr. Andrew Karaplis' work on how circadian rhythms influence osteoporosis points to new directions for therapy for this disorder. Dr. John Antoniou conducts basic and clinical research on quantitative MRI as a diagnostic tool of disc degeneration, tissue engineering of the intervertebral disc, and total hip arthroplasty.
As people live longer, understanding the aging process has become more critical to sustaining quality of life. LDI Aging Axis researchers are contributing to advances against some of the more debilitating conditions of advanced age.
Support the work of researchers in the Aging Research Axis in the Lady Davis Institute and contribute to advances against some of the more debilitating conditions of advanced age.