The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a grant to UNLV chemistry professor Bryan Spangelo to study the chemical processes that may lead to the destruction of neurons in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The $221,750 grant was awarded through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an arm of the NIH, and will fund the research for the next three years. The research will be the first of its kind to study how specific neurotransmitters may inhibit the activation of proteins that some scientists believe may lead to cell death and brain degeneration.
By defining the effects of these neurotransmitters, Spangelo hopes his research could eventually lead to breakthroughs in new treatments for Alzheimer’s patients.
“Our work will clarify the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA on the progression of neuroinflammation, a condition that research suggests may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Spangelo. “If we are successful in blocking the signal that leads to such inflammation, it could provide a rationale for therapeutic intervention and explain why certain neurons are depleted by the disease."
Although the causes of Alzheimer's Disease are unknown, one feature of the debilitating neurodegenerative disorder is the production in the brain of small proteins termed cytokines. Cytokines can activate a type of cell in the brain called astrocytes to attack and destroy neurons.
During his research, Spangelo will isolate and treat astrocytes with a cytokine called interleukin-1 in order to determine the precise chemical processes that lead to the activation of astrocytes and subsequent death of neurons. He will then attempt to block those processes using selective neurotransmitters.
According to Ron Yasbin, dean of UNLV’s College of Sciences, the NIH grant will further enhance UNLV’s reputation as an emerging leader in the area of health sciences.
“This grant represents another ambitious effort by a UNLV faculty member to improve the quality of life here in southern Nevada, across the country, and around the globe,” said Yasbin. “Our continued ability to garner highly competitive federal grants provides the foundation for UNLV faculty and students to explore the great research questions of our time. We hope to leverage this success by expanding our public-private community partnerships to better serve the interests of Nevada and the nation.”
Alzheimer's disease is a common disease in aging, currently affecting approximately 4.5 million Americans. Experts believe that if there are no significant improvements in treatment, there will be a three-fold increase in the number of persons with Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. by 2050.
UNLV is a doctoral-degree-granting institution of more than 27,000 students and 2,900 faculty and staff. Founded in 1957, the university offers more than 220 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs. UNLV is located on a 332-acre campus in dynamic Southern Nevada and is classified in the category of Research Universities (high research activity) by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.