HMRI Researchers to Start Alzheimer’s Study Seeking Biomarkers Long Before Onset of Symptoms
Huntington Medical Research Institutes has come full circle in the search for biomarkers indicating Alzheimer’s Disease with a recent grant.
In 1997, HMRI developed a new diagnostic tool – magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) – that led to the discovery and patent of the first AD biomarkers, a revolutionary concept of the time.
Now MRS is being employed again, this time in tandem with molecular neurology in a two-year study to find AD biomarkers long before onset of symptoms.
Selection of participants will take about a year, estimates project researchers, followed by another year of testing and evaluation. Dr. Brian Ross, Director of the HMRI Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Program who helped developed MRS and discovered those first AD biomarkers, will join efforts with Dr. Mike Harrington, Chief of HMRI’s Molecular Neurology Program.
Some 120 participants, age 70 to 90, will be selected from referrals by local physicians, presentations about the project at community organizations and from candidates who contact HMRI directly.
Impaired lipid remodeling releases inflammatory products that activate glial cells (neuroinflammation) preceding the onset of clinically recognizable AD. The altered neuronal membranes also release ß-amyloid (commonly known as plaque deposits in the brain that contributes to cell deterioration – a hallmark of AD). Both neuroinflammation and ß-amyloid accumulation ultimately cause dementia.
What sets Dr. Ross and Dr. Harrington’s project apart is they have identified advanced biomarkers to measure for AD, just as cardiac enzymes rise in the blood during a heart attack. N-acetylaspartate, NAA, is one disease marker that indicates nerve cells are alive and working in the brain. Myo-inositol is the second marker and shows the presence of glial cells that protect neurons in the brain.
MRS measurements have allowed Ross’ team to see changes in brain lipids in AD. Lipids serve as the “lotion” that covers brain cells. As the lotion thins in AD, brain function is disrupted before symptoms ever show. Complementing the MRS measurements will be results from samples of body fluids, particularly cerebrospinal fluid, blood, and urine, the purview of Dr. Harrington’s team.