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Duke Researcher to Lead Part of $30 Million Alzheimer’s Study

Published March 17, 2016 | Updated April 12, 2017

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DURHAM, N.C. -- Rima Kaddurah-Daouk, Ph.D., professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke Health, will lead part of a $30 million, NIH-funded project to study connections between the body’s system of blood vessels and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The five-year project comprises several research teams that will examine molecular mechanisms in the vascular system and their role in Alzheimer’s disease. The goal is to identify new treatment targets and preventive measures.

The project, called Molecular Mechanisms of the Vascular Etiology of Alzheimer’s Disease (M2OVE-AD), is part of a larger NIH program, Accelerating Medicines Partnership-Alzheimer’s Disease (AMP-AD), which brings together academic centers, industry and nonprofit groups to speed the discovery of drug targets and therapies for Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting 36 million people worldwide. According to the NIH, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could hit 115 million by 2050 if experts don’t develop effective treatments and preventive measures.

“As our population is aging, the disease becomes far more pronounced,” said Kaddurah-Daouk, who will work with co-investigator Mitch Kling of the University of Pennsylvania and other universities on a nearly $6 million project to study the metabolic cross-talk between Alzheimer’s and vascular disease. “Expense-wise, it’s believed the cost of Alzheimer’s disease will, in the future, exceed the cost of defense in the U.S.,” she said.

Kaddurah-Daouk began studying Alzheimer’s five years ago through the lens of metabolomics, the study of cellular processes in the body and the chemical fingerprints or signatures they leave behind. With initial funding from the National Institute of Aging, Duke created the Alzheimer’s Disease Metabolomic Consortium, a multi-center effort led by principal investigator Kaddurah-Daouk to build a comprehensive metabolomics database for Alzheimer’s disease.

“To study the brain in isolation doesn’t make sense,” she said. “The brain depends heavily on the rest of the body for its sustenance and function. The environment and exposures, diet, lifestyle, bacteria that lives within us and our organs all impact brain metabolism and health. If we use the power of metabolomics, we can look earlier in the process, maybe 30 to 40 years before the onset of Alzheimer’s and map failures in metabolic pathways that lead to cognitive changes and disease. Vascular or cardiovascular disease may add complexity to that picture.”

Collaborators on the M2OVE-AD project include the Mayo Clinic, the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Emory and Columbia universities and the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center. 

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