$2 million grant to explore link between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s

chronic stress
© Sandor Kacso

West Virginia University School of Medicine are investigating the connection between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s Disease, using a $2 million NIH grant

In the US, the National Institutes of Health awarded WVU $2 million to push forward previous research on the link between stress and Alzheimer’s. The team have been using animal models to explore how xanthine oxidase—a naturally occurring enzyme—may sabotage the brain’s blood vessels in Alzheimer’s patients.

Paul Chantler, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise Physiology and the Department of Neuroscience, said: “The research has done really well in animal models, but when it made it to clinical trials, it’s fallen flat on its feet. So, NIH wanted to prioritize examining the vascular contributions to dementia. That’s where my research fits in well.”

The team at WVA want to gain insight into how vascular changes in the brain may exacerbate Alzheimer’s patients’ cognitive decline.

Using the NIH grant, they’ll also identify the effects that chronic psychological stress has on the disease’s progression, and they’ll use a medication to block the problematic xanthine-oxidase pathway and see whether doing so keeps the brain’s vasculature healthy.

“Can we, one, use stress to accelerate the pathology of dementia?” Chantler said. “We think that we can. Two, can we delay Alzheimer’s pathology by giving this drug? Three, if we reduce stress and use the drug, do we have double the beneficial effect?”

Over 55 million people worldwide living with dementia

This research could be instrumental in creating new therapies for preserving the memory and cognition of the 6.2 million people in the US have Alzheimer’s disease and the many more at risk of developing the disease.

“If you know stress is a risk factor for dementia, then obviously you try and alleviate that stress,” Chantler said. “But, also, the drugs we’re using to block xanthine oxidase currently seem to prevent the vascular dysfunction that we see with dementia.

“Now, we’re currently looking at whether that leads to cognitive improvements, but it’s really exciting to say, ‘Well, even if you have a family history for dementia, maybe there are drugs out there that can diminish or delay some of the pathologies.’”

This funded research has the potential to improve millions of lives around the world.


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