Biochemist Dr. Henne Holstege of Amsterdam UMC receives a BrightFocus Alzheimer Research Award with a grant of € 250.000, intended for scientific research. The aim of her current research is to learn from healthy centenarians how it is possible that their brains continue to function well into a very old age. Holstege investigates the influence of genetics, the immune system and the structure of Alzheimer’s proteins in the brains of these special people. The grant enables her to expand the 100-plus project with research into the presence of Alzheimer’s proteins (blood biomarkers) in 500 bloodsamples from centenarians, their children and children-in-law. To this end, she is entering a collaboration with Prof. Charlotte Teunissen, head of the Neurochemical Laboratory at Amsterdam UMC.
How is it possible that some people suffer from the symptoms of dementia at a young age, while others live beyond 100 years of age with no signs of cognitive decline? To find out more about this, Holstege set up the 100-plus study in 2013. She s project leader f this research and heads the Genomics of Neurodegenerative Diseases and Aging section at the Department of Human Genetics of the Amsterdam UMC.
It is known that reaching very old ages occurs within families. This indicates that genes are strongly involved. We know that some hereditary defects cause or increase the risk of dementia. Holstege and her team are also looking at the genetic abnormalities in centenarians that prevent someone from developing dementia.
The question is: how do the genes of the centenarians do that? One way to learn more about the protective mechanisms of the centenarians is to examine the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease in these centenarians. Which characteristics do they have or do they not have? To this end, Holstege and her team carefully examine the brain functions of the centenarians, their genes, the composition of their blood and even their stools. About a third of the centenarians participating in the study agree to brain donation after death for the purpose of this study. This, together with all the other data collected, is a gold mine for the researchers because they can learn which properties in this special group contribute to the maintenance of their brain functions.
“We are joining forces to discover the secret of cognitively healthy aging. These tests had been on the list for a long time, we can finally start with them!”
Alzheimer’s proteins build up in the brains of patients with Azlheimer’s and – to a lesser extent – also during normal aging. These proteins are known to be detectable in the blood as well. Previous research indicates that they mirror the Alzheimer’s processes that take place in the brain; we call these substances blood biomarkers. That is why the researchers would like to know to what extent Alzheimer’s proteins are also present in the blood of the centenarians and how these relate to the functioning of the brain.
To investigate this, Holstege has entered into a partnership with Prof. Charlotte Teunissen. She is an expert in developing and measuring blood biomarkers for neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s.
Simply taking a tube of blood can detect Alzheimer’s processes in the brain, possibly even before there are clinical symptoms. In the future, this could contribute significantly to the timely administration of medication that counteracts Alzheimer’s disease.
The BrightFocus Foundation is a foundation from the USA that annually awards grants to various researchers from all over the world in the fields of Alzheimer’s dementia, macular degeneration and glaucoma. For more information about the BrightFocus Foundation, visit www.brightfocus.org