Columbia University Medical Center

Columbia University Medical Center Awarded $3 Million To Drive Alzheimer’s Genetics Research

NEW YORK, February 14, 2007 – Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) will receive a $3 million grant from the Merrill Lynch Foundation to support research into the genetic influences involved in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases of aging.

The new Merrill Lynch-funded research is an expansion of work already under way by researchers at Columbia University’s Taub Institute. The focus of this new effort will be in identifying the genetic roots of Alzheimer’s disease in unique populations and in understanding the functions of these genes, including the recently published discovery of a new genetic variant implicated in late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“This important grant from Merrill Lynch will accelerate our search for genetic clues into the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease,” said Richard Mayeux, M.D., co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center. “My hope is that a greater understanding of the genetic influences will allow us to develop treatments to reduce the chances of high-risk individuals becoming afflicted with this devastating disease.”

“The Merrill Lynch Foundation is honored to support Columbia University’s Taub Institute in their groundbreaking efforts to undercover the root causes of Alzheimer’s,” said Eddy Bayardelle, president of the Merrill Lynch Foundation. “Creating lasting partnerships with leading organizations to better the healthcare, human services, and education in our community is the mission of our Foundation.”

This new funding will allow Dr. Mayeux and other Taub investigators to further investigate SORL1, a major new gene implicated in late-onset Alzheimer’s, whose discovery was described in the February issue of Nature Genetics. Dr. Mayeux and his colleagues at several other academic medical centers uncovered this gene. Click here for the press release on that discovery.

The research will focus on two primary areas. First, the grant will allow for the recruitment of genetic analysts and genetic epidemiologists who will investigate Columbia’s family studies to identify genetic variants that explain the complex inheritance of Alzheimer’s disease.

Secondly, while the researchers know the origin of the amyloid protein that is believed to be the culprit in Alzheimer’s disease, they do not yet know why or how this normal protein becomes toxic. This grant will support researchers with expertise in functional genomics to investigate how alterations in the normal processing of this protein result in its damaging deposition in the brain. The researchers also will investigate another known culprit in Alzheimer’s disease – the Tau protein. This protein, which holds together a system of small tubes inside the transport component of brain cells, becomes altered to contribute to the neurofibrillary tangle found in Alzheimer’s patients.

In 1994, Dr. Mayeux noticed, while studying elderly residents of Washington Heights – the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where Columbia University Medical Center is located – that Dominicans have about three times the rate of Alzheimer’s disease compared to people of different ethnic backgrounds in the community. The Dominican population is ideal for research into identifying genetic variants causing this disease due to the population’s relative genetic homogeneity. Dr. Mayeux and his colleagues began collecting blood samples for entire families in both Washington Heights and the Dominican Republic so that their genes could be evaluated for common differences, which may be involved in the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“We believe these families and patients hold the key to unlocking the genetic basis of Alzheimer’s disease, and our continued research efforts will be focused on these populations,” said Dr. Mayeux.

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Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, nurses, dentists, and public health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. www.cumc.columbia.edu

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