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Research Grants 2015

To view an abstract, select an author from the vertical list on the left.

2015 Grants - Bangen

Novel MRI Measures of Demyelination in Middle-Aged Adults with MCI

Katherine J. Bangen, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, California

2015 New Investigator Research Grant

Can a new brain imaging technique detect early abnormal changes in the brain’s wiring (white matter) and identify people at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease?

The brain contains two basic kinds of matter: “gray matter” which includes nerve cells, and “white matter” which contains the nerve fibers or “wiring” through which nerve cells communicate with one another. Recent findings have shown that white matter damage may occur during the earliest phases of disease — the time when potential Alzheimer’s therapies can be most effective. Thus, there is a need to better understand if early changes in white-matter can be used to identify people at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

White matter contains a protein called myelin, which provides a protective sheath or “insulation” around key nerve fibers. Damage to the myelin sheath occurs early in Alzheimer’s disease, and may account for the loss of white matter function that leads to memory loss and other cognitive problems typical of dementia. Myelin damage has been difficult to measure accurately with standard imaging techniques but scientists have recently developed a novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method that can detect “demyelination” with far more sensitivity. This technique is known as “multicomponent driven equilibrium single pulse observation of T1 and T2” (or mcDESPOT) and describes a certain way that the brain images are taken to provide detailed information on white matter changes.

Research Plan
For their current studies, Katherine J. Bangen, Ph.D., and colleagues will use mcDESPOT to examine how white matter becomes damaged in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition of subtle cognitive decline that may precede Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers will assess 90 participants: 30 people who are cognitively healthy, 30 of whom have “amnestic MCI” which primarily affects memory function and 30 of whom have “nonamnestic MCI” in which thinking skills other than memory are impaired. The investigators will determine if the white matter damage detected by mcDESPOT can accurately differentiate the three participant groups and whether these brain changes can help predict which participants are at risk for future cognitive decline. The researchers will also determine if other risk factors for Alzheimer’s (e.g. genetic variations or cardiovascular disease) influence the relationship between white matter damage and cognition in the their participants.

The results of these efforts could shed new light on how white matter damage may increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and could also point to novel strategies for detecting and diagnosing Alzheimer’s at its earliest stages when therapies may have the maximum benefit.

Alzheimer's Association International Conference | July 16-20, 2017, London, England

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