Researchers at the Washington University NIH/NIGMS work in a wide variety of areas that impact human health. Alzheimer’s disease causes progressive memory loss, altered thinking and behaviors, and is the most common form of dementia. In the US, 5 million people over age 65 have Alzheimer’s (65% are women) and 500,000 will die each year, making it the 6th leading cause of death. Estimates show that by 2050, 16 million people over age 65 will develop Alzheimer’s unless scientists develop better tools to diagnose, treat, or stop the disease.
At Washington University, physicians and scientists working in the Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Resource are developing analytical tools that have advanced our understanding of the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and these tools are being used to test the effectiveness of new medications and treatments that may slow or cure this disease.
One theory is that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by an accumulation of certain proteins that form tangles or plaques in the brain that disrupt normal nerve activity and brain function. Two of the proteins involved are called tau and amyloid-beta.
Using mass spectrometry and stable isotope labeled amino acids, scientists here have discovered that amyloid-beta protein accumulates in the fluid surrounding the human brain when there is an imbalance between the rate of production and clearance of amyloid-beta (and other brain proteins). Drugs and therapies are now being developed that can potentially reduce the production or increase the clearance rate of amyloid-beta in human brains. The effectiveness of these new drugs is being tested at Washington University and other research centers using the same mass spectrometry and stable isotope metabolic labeling techniques and analytical procedures developed in the Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Resource.
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, go to: http://www.alz.org/