American Health Assistance Foundation Announces 19 New Grants for Cutting-Edge Alzheimer’s Disease Research; 22 Awards for Eye-Disease Research Also Announced

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Nonprofit AHAF announces $5.6 million in grants for Alzheimer's and eye disease research to scientists worldwide. Includes $3.4 million for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Only through bold ideas and pushing the limits of scientific knowledge can we find better ways to prevent, detect, and treat Alzheimer’s disease,” said Stacy Pagos Haller, AHAF President and CEO.

Alzheimer's disease scientists:
>    Examine the Role of Sleep in Memory Loss;
>    Assess Genetic Risks for the Disease;
>    Move Closer to Human Clinical Trials on Drug Therapies

The American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF), a nonprofit organization that funds innovative, early-stage research on Alzheimer’s disease, today announced it has awarded 19 new grants, totaling more than $3.4 million dollars, to scientists worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative disorder that destroys brain function and eventually leads to death from complete brain failure, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Currently, more than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to rise dramatically with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. An estimated 15 million Americans will suffer from the illness by 2050.

“AHAF supports the type of cutting-edge research represented in this year’s grants, to help end a disease that is so devastating for patients and their families,” noted AHAF President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller. “Only through bold ideas and pushing the limits of scientific knowledge can we find better ways to prevent, detect, and treat Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

“Our grantees are building upon some of the major breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s disease research announced in the last few years,” said AHAF Vice President for Scientific Affairs Guy Eakin, Ph.D. “Scientists are learning more and more about how certain cell proteins contribute to the brain function problems found in Alzheimer’s patients,” added Eakin. “Once identified, these proteins can be targeted in drug therapies. This year, we support several projects that bring us much closer to testing new drugs in human clinical trials,” he said.

Other subjects addressed in the 19 new Alzheimer’s research projects include strategies to protect and repair the brain, discovery of new genetic risk factors, and development of new tools for investigators. Some of the highlights include:

  •     Can improving the quality of sleep enhance memory function in Alzheimer’s disease patients?

Other studies have suggested that reduced “deep sleep” during the nightly sleep cycle contributes to declining memory abilities in people with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment, which can progress to Alzheimer’s disease. Ken A. Paller, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Northwestern University in Illinois will test the hypothesis that poor sleep is an important factor contributing to memory dysfunction. Researchers will analyze brain activity and stimulate deep sleep in study volunteers to see if memory improves. Results could increase understanding of whether memory function depends on certain brain events taking place during sleep and may suggest therapies to help protect patients from some types of memory loss.

  •     Finding the Genes Contributing to the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease:

Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami, her co-investigator Stephen Zucker, and colleagues will study large multigenerational families with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers hope to increase the chances of discovering a strong genetic risk of developing the disorder. Knowing the identity of Alzheimer’s genes could help in the initial diagnosis of the disease, and lead to future prevention and treatment.

  •     Testing the Potential for Human Clinical Trials of Drug Therapies:

A number of scientific breakthroughs have improved the understanding of how various cell proteins may affect brain function and contribute to the abnormal build-up of plaque and so-called cell “tangles” found in the Alzheimer’s disease brain. Three AHAF grantees are zeroing in on proteins that could become the focus of new drug therapies in human clinical trials.

One hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is the unnatural clumping of misfolded tau proteins into tangles in the brain. Kurt R. Brunden, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia will test a number of drugs on mice with Alzheimer’s disease to see whether any of the therapies can prevent tau from clumping.

Gary Landreth, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Case Western University in Cleveland will study a drug that has been shown to lower toxic beta-amyloid protein levels and remove existing plaques in the brains of certain mice with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers will test whether the drug, already approved by the FDA for other purposes, also prevents damage to brain cells in another type of mouse with Alzheimer’s disease. If so, a drug that holds particular promise due to its disease-modifying actions could be put on a fast track for human clinical trials.

Another Cleveland researcher, Kiran Bhaskar, Ph.D., of the Lerner Research Institute, has been studying how a protein, known as p38 MAPK, is involved in the development of tangles in brain cells. Bhaskar and colleagues will examine whether a new drug can affect p38 MAPK and prevent an increase in tangles.

For information on these and other AHAF grants, visit New grants include 22 research projects on glaucoma and macular degeneration, also announced by AHAF today at

To date, AHAF has awarded more than $71 million to researchers studying Alzheimer’s disease, including the early work of two Nobel Prize-winning scientists. AHAF research funding has led to the identification of several new candidate therapies and drug targets, as well as greater understanding of the disease process. The results of one AHAF-funded study, announced last week in the journal Science Translational Medicine, explain why people with a particular variation of the ApoE gene, called ApoE4, have a strong risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

About the American Health Assistance Foundation

The American Health Assistance Foundation ( is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding cures for age-related degenerative diseases by funding research worldwide under its three program areas: Alzheimer’s Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research. AHAF also provides public information about these diseases, including risk factors, preventative lifestyles, current treatments, and coping strategies.

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