NIH funds innovative alzheimer's research initiated at UCSB

A completely new approach to the study of Alzheimers disease, initiated by a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, may solve a critical piece in the puzzle of the disease. This tragic neurological illness progressively erases memory in its millions of victims. The key to the new approach is understanding the way certain proteins in the brain fold, or rather misfold.

Michael Bowers, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, developed this project, which is being funded by the National Institutes of Health. Bowerss laboratory will receive $1.3 million of the total $9 million project grant, plus biological samples worth an additional $500,000. The grant covers a five-year period. Four institutions are involved.

Bowers is using specialized chemical research methods and applying them to biology. His research will depend upon the study of rare peptides, or strings of amino acids, that are difficult to produce. These will be provided by co-investigator David Teplow, a professor at UCLAs David Geffen School of Medicine, who has been involved in Alzheimers research for over 10 years. Joan-Emma Shea, also a professor in UCSBs Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, heads the theoretical modeling aspect of the project.

Until about five or six years ago, everyone assumed that the large amyloid plaques, or neurofibrillary tangles, that were found in the brains of Alzheimers victims were the cause of the disease, said Bowers. However, recent scientific discoveries indicate that these large, insoluble aggregates might merely be markers of the disease they do not cause the disease. Rather, smaller soluble oligomers, or peptide complexes, are now felt to be the causative agents, and I find that very interesting.

He explained that now the hunt is on for the small stuff. Because of their expertise in certain chemical methodologies, Bowers and his research group are able to track down the molecular l

Contact: Gail Gallessich
University of California - Santa Barbara

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