A scientist who studies how dopamine works in the brain will use a $400,000 grant to investigate clues that the chemical may have a role in Alzheimer’s disease. The information could be used to shut down the degenerative process at the beginning, before patients lose brain cells and memory they will never get back.
“All therapeutic treatments (for Alzheimer’s) are symptomatic. They can’t slow down the disease,” said Michael Beckstead, who works in the Aging & Metabolism Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
“Once brain cells are dead, they can’t come back,” Beckstead said. “If we catch it early on before the cells really start dying off, we could develop therapies to arrest the process in its earliest stages before any cognitive damage is done.”
That will require a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s sooner because it usually isn’t diagnosed until memory loss has set in.
Some of the earliest symptoms are depression and apathy, which involve areas of the brain Beckstead studies.
“People with depression and apathy are much more likely to develop Alzheimer’s later in life,” he said.
With the new grant from the National Institute on Aging, he will be studying dopamine neurons in the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s and of mice who are old (about 2 1/2 years) but don’t have the disease.
The grant is a supplement to an initial $1.7 million NIA award Beckstead received to investigate how the dopamine system ages in the brain. When the system produces too little dopamine, it can cause movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, as well as depression.
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