Published on: July 28, 2018
by Ben Brazil for LA Times:
Two UC Irvine researchers recently began investigating why women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Drs. Sunil Gandhi and Mathew Blurton-Jones were the winners of a $100,000 grant competition organized by UCI’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) and the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, a group founded by Maria Shriver.
Dr. Josh Grill, co-director of UCI MIND, said the move is meant to help focus some of the institute’s best scientists on finding out what leads to the sex disparity in Alzheimer’s diagnoses. “The idea with this recent partnership is to focus the energy of our best scientists on the relationship between Alzheimer’s and sex and gender,” Grill said. “This’ll let our scientists gather some preliminary data that will make them competitive for larger grants.”
Grill said researchers have traditionally traced the disparity to women’s longer lifespans, considering they are more likely to live to the ages where the risk for Alzheimer’s increases exponentially.
Grill said that while this is the biggest contributor to the imbalance, it’s not the entire explanation. New research published in June suggested that hormonal influences or pregnancy-related changes in the immune system may increase women’s risk.
The study conducted by Gandhi and Blurton-Jones, who are both UCI associate professors of neurobiology and behavior, will look at the relationship between Alzheimer’s and microglia — the brain’s primary immune cells.
Blurton-Jones said microglia play a role in clearing toxic proteins from the brain, including the beta-amyloid protein linked to Alzheimer’s. Recent genetic studies show that more than half of the risk genes associated with Alzheimer’s are created by microglia, he said.
Funding for the study is considered a pilot grant and the research is expected to last about a year. However, Blurton-Jones said they’re hoping to discover information about microglia that will lead to bigger grants from the National Institutes of Health so the research can continue. “The quicker we know about why it is that women get Alzheimer’s more, the quicker we can start to create new therapies to treat it,” Blurton-Jones said.
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