Photo: courtesy of the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation
Research to find the causes and a cure for Alzheimer disease continues to be a high priority for the Society.
Saskatchewan Research Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is often diagnosed when symptoms are quite advanced. This makes it difficult to provide effective treatment or management options.
Dr. Darrell D. Mousseau, the Saskatchewan Research Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia, is a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan. He heads a team of researchers (students, technicians and post-doctoral fellows) who are attempting to identify changes in the brain that occur well before symptoms become obvious. When these changes are identified, they will be able to provide a way for family physicians to identify whether a patient is at greater risk of developing AD in late-life.
His work has provided several promising results. First, molecules that can cause depression in some individuals are also changed in some of the brains of AD patients. Second, there are several types of the sticky molecule – called beta-amyloid– that forms the plaques in the brains of AD patients. Mousseau and his team have found that the type of beta-amyloid is not the same in men and women. This would mean that AD might be triggered by different events in the brains of men and women. This would mean that men and women might require different types of treatment options. His work is also finding changes in the brain that are triggered by diabetes and are linked to mental health.
It is now well understood that diseases tend to occur in groups – in other words, that the risk of having one of these diseases might increase, or decrease, your risk of getting the other disease. For example, as mentioned above, having depression can increase your risk of developing AD. The same applies for diabetes. Because of these ‘common risks’, there is a push in the scientific community to study several diseases at once. The thought is that it will be easier to find similarities, as well as differences, between two diseases with a ‘common risk’, if they are studied under the same circumstances. The information likely would lead to better diagnose or treatment for either or both diseases.
A large-scale study recently showed that survivors of breast cancer tend to have much less risk of developing AD in later life. Mousseau and one of his trainees is now looking at whether genes that are associated with AD can also affect breast cancer cells. He is hoping to use the information to better understand both diseases and to determine why these genes appear to help in one situation, but hurt in another. Understanding this will lead to much better, and earlier, options for diagnosing and managing AD.
Everyone is different and it is unlikely that a lifetime of activities, diets, stresses, or experiences will trigger the exact same changes in everyone’s brain cells and molecules. Mousseau strongly believes that we are very close to understanding what causes AD, at least in some individuals. Once we can identify what might be a trigger in a certain individual, then we can determine whether the individual will respond better to drug treatments or whether they would respond better to another treatment option. Mousseau’s work with the Saskatchewan Research Chair is helping greatly with figuring this out.
In April 2010, University of Saskatchewan researcher Dr. Darrell Mousseau was awarded the Saskatchewan Research Chair worth $1 million over five years to study a link between Alzheimer’s disease and depression. The Chair is a partnership among the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, and the University of Saskatchewan. The two funding partners each provide $100,000 per year for five years, while the University of Saskatchewan provides the necessary infrastructure and support for the Chair.
Alzheimer Society Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Research Awards
Two Saskatchewan researchers have received 2011 - 2012 Doctoral research awards in the Quality of Life stream:
Rachel Burton, University of Saskatchewan, received $61,590 for her doctoral research on “Delivering cognitive rehabilitation by telehealth to people with dementia in rural areas” under the supervision of Dr. Megan O’Connell (Rural & Remote Dementia Clinic).
Heather Eritz, University of Regina, received $61,590 for her doctoral investigations on “Life history, nurse empathy and aggressive behaviours in individuals with dementia” under the supervision of Dr. Thomas Hadjistavropoulos (Centre on Aging and Health).
In 2010 - 2011, Sébastien Hébert, who studies at the Université Laval in Quebec City was awarded a $180,000 Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan Young Investigator grant. His project is entitled “The Importance of microRNA target site polymorphisms in Alzheimer’s disease.”
Also in 2010 - 2011, another Université Laval researcher, Carl Julien, received a $90,000 Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan Post-Doctoral Fellowship Award to study the “Effect of type 2 diabetes on the in vivo pathogenesis of tau.”