This year’s BRIght Futures Prize finalists are pursuing forward-thinking and inventive research to improve patient care. Each of the three finalists hopes to receive the $100,000 BRIght Futures Prize, which will be awarded at Discover Brigham on Nov. 10. Read about their work below, and vote for your choice.
Predicting Alzheimer’s – Tracy Young-Pearse, PhD
What problem are you trying to solve and why?
Alzheimer’s disease is devastating for patients and their families. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly common: More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. One of the reasons why we have not been able to successfully treat it is that by the time patients enter the clinic and are diagnosed, many of their brain cells have already died. Many doctors and scientists agree that early intervention, prior to the onset of memory loss and cognitive decline, may be the key. But in order to intervene early, we must be able to predict who will develop the disease. Further complicating our efforts today is that Alzheimer’s disease can come in different forms, and some patients may respond to a given therapy while others may need a different kind of intervention. If we could predict who would respond to particular therapies, this could transform how we treat Alzheimer’s disease.
What is your solution?
We want to understand why some people develop Alzheimer’s disease when others don’t so that we can intervene early to prevent disease progression in those who are at risk. Our idea is to take blood cells from individual people, turn these into brain cells in a dish and use measurements from these cells to predict Alzheimer’s.
For this project, we first are making stem cells from blood samples from three groups of people: 1) those who lived to be in their 90s and 100s with excellent cognitive abilities and no signs of disease in their brain, 2) those with Alzheimer’s disease who had plaques or tangles in their brain and 3) those who had plaques and tangles in their brain but had excellent cognition.
Through a series of manipulations, we can efficiently turn these stem cells into brain cells in just a few weeks. From these living brain cells, we will acquire measurements of the proteins that accumulate and cause the disease, and develop predictive tools that will help us assess who is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In addition, we will examine which cells respond to a new therapy in clinical development.
How will your research project benefit people?
If successful, our project could transform how we test new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, allowing us to treat the disease before brain cells die. Importantly, it could also help us identify which treatment will be the most effective for which patients, and if no treatment exists for a given patient, test for new interventions that would work for them. Together, this could potentially mean reducing the suffering of the millions of families affected by this devastating disease.
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