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Einstein researchers receive $6 million grant to untangle the genetic protections against Alzheimer's disease

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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IMAGE: This is Nir Barzilai, M.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. view more 

Credit: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

(November 14, 2017)--BRONX, NY--The number of older adults with Alzheimer's disease continues to rise, but the number of treatments for the condition has not kept pace. Now, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, part of Montefiore, have received a $6.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify networks of genes in healthy centenarians that protect them against dementia. The results could help identify new targets for drugs to treat Alzheimer's.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 5.4 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer's, the most common type of dementia. It is currently the sixth leading cause of death among all adults. It is estimated that by 2050, nearly 14 million people aged 65 or older will live with the disease--nearly half of them over the age of 85.

"Aging is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer's," says Nir Barzilai, M.D., co-principal investigator on the grant, director of the Institute for Aging Research, and the Rennert Chair in Aging Research. "But there are individuals with extraordinary longevity--95 years or older--who have a natural resistance to dementia. We hope to unlock the secrets in their genomes to reveal promising targets for drug development."

Dr. Barzilai and Zhengdong Zhang, Ph.D. co-PI on the grant and associate professor of genetics at Einstein, will tap into the wealth of genomic data generated from two existing longitudinal studies on aging--the Longevity Genes Project, a group of over 600 centenarians, who at age 95 have no signs of dementia; and LonGenity, a study of the children of centenarians, and age-matched controls without parental history of longevity. These two groups were followed prospectively and include neurocognitive assessments for cognitive decline and Alzheimer's.

Integrated Genetic Networks

For more than a decade, Dr. Barzilai has led the Longevity Genes Project, which studies the genetically homogenous population of Ashkenazi Jews. Previous studies have identified genes that appear to help preserve cognitive function. Building on past successes, the research team will expand their approach to investigate networks of genes that provide protection against genes that would otherwise cause disability and disease.

The top candidates will be validated in other external human aging studies and in neuron models. They can then be targeted for new drug development.

"Using advanced genetic analysis, we can move past picking out individual genes," explains Dr. Zhang. "We can see which genes are preserved together, but also how they can act on genetic variants we know can cause disease. We are hopeful we can discover new targets for future drug design."

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The grant, titled "Resilience to Alzheimer's Disease in Humans with Exceptional Longevity," is from the National Institute for Aging, part of the NIH (1R01AG057909).

About Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Albert Einstein College of Medicine is one of the nation's premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2016-2017 academic year, Einstein is home to 717 M.D. students, 166 Ph.D. students, 103 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and 278 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has more than 1,900 full-time faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2016, Einstein received more than $160 million in awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in aging, intellectual development disorders, diabetes, cancer, clinical and translational research, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Its partnership with Montefiore, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein, advances clinical and translational research to accelerate the pace at which new discoveries become the treatments and therapies that benefit patients. Einstein runs one of the largest residency and fellowship training programs in the medical and dental professions in the United States through Montefiore and an affiliation network involving hospitals and medical centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn and on Long Island. For more information, please visit http://www.einstein.yu.edu, read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook and view us on YouTube.

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