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Duke Researcher to Lead Part of $30 Million Alzheimer’s Study

Rima Kaddurah-Daouk, Ph.D., professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke Health and member of the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences, will lead part of a $30 million project to study connections between vascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting 36 million people worldwide. According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could hit 115 million by 2050 if experts don’t develop effective treatments and preventive measures.

The project, M2OVE-AD (Molecular Mechanisms of the Vascular Etiology of Alzheimer’s Disease), was developed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, two branches of NIH.

It comprises five projects to examine molecular mechanisms in the vascular system and their role in Alzheimer’s disease. The goal is to identify new treatment targets and preventive measures by an innovate team science approach in which the investigators will share their findings in real time, allowing other groups to run verification tests.

“As our population is aging, the disease becomes far more pronounced,” said Kaddurah-Daouk, who will work with co-principal investigator Mitchel Kling of the University of Pennsylvania on a nearly $6 million project to study the actions of lipids in blood vessels and how those processes change the brain. “Expense-wise, it’s believed the cost of Alzheimer’s disease will soon exceed the cost of defense in the U.S.,” she said.

Kaddurah-Daouk began studying Alzheimer’s five years ago through the lens of metabolomics, the study of cellular processes in the body and the chemical fingerprints or signatures they leave behind. A pioneer in the field of metabolomics, Kaddurah-Daouk has established national consortia that include the Alzheimer’s Disease Metabolomics Consortium and the Pharmacometabolomics Research Network, bringing together researchers from academic institutions across the nation.

“To study the brain in isolation doesn’t make sense,” she said. “The brain depends heavily on the rest of the body for its sustenance and function. If we use the power of metabolomics, we can look earlier in the disease process, maybe years before the onset of symptoms in Alzheimer’s and map failures in pathways and how our diet, environment and the bacteria in our gut impact our brain. Vascular or cardiovascular disease may add complexity to that picture.”

Collaborators on the comprehensive project include the Mayo Clinic, the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Emory and Columbia universities and the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center.