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Salk Team Awarded 8-Year, $19.2M Grant for Alzheimer’s Research

Xconomy San Diego — 

A 10-person team of researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has been awarded an eight-year, $19.2 million grant to investigate mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease and aging-related cognitive decline and uncover new therapies.

The grant, announced Friday by the research institute in San Diego’s La Jolla community, is part of a $43 million initiative by the American Heart Association and the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group to fund brain health research. The AHA-Allen Initiative in Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment, which also involves contributions from other, unnamed funders, was announced in May.

No therapies exist to effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, though there are drugs that can alleviate some symptoms of the disease. Worldwide, an estimated 35 million people are living with dementia, according to the World Health Organization. The organization says it anticipates that figure will double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050.

At Salk, scientists have “devised a completely new way of approaching Alzheimer’s and aging research,” Rusty Gage, the institute’s president and head of the multidisciplinary team awarded the AHA-Allen initiative funds, said in a news release.

The group includes experts in fields including metabolism, immunology and inflammation, genetics and epigenetics, and protein analysis. The researchers plan to analyze interactions between proteins, genes, metabolism, inflammation, and epigenetics—areas that are key to brain health—and study the “complex, interdependent biological systems in our body” that break down with age to further develop their theory that Alzheimer’s and other age-related brain disorders are triggered by failure of such systems, the institute said.

“The fact that numerous clinical trials over the past several decades have not yielded effective therapies points to the complex nature of neurodegeneration,” said Susan Kaech, director of Salk’s NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, in a prepared statement.

Researchers will develop new methods to study aging and diseased neurons and other brain cells, as well as use software algorithms to integrate diverse datasets to identify the most critical cell types and biological pathways for brain aging, according to Salk.

“By studying the networks that keep our brains healthy, the team aims to reveal new targets for therapeutic research and biomarkers of early stage cognitive decline,” Salk said in the statement.

The news comes the same week as two other commitments to provide millions of dollars in funding to those studying brain disease.

On Monday, National Instruments co-founder James Truchard founded the Oskar Fischer Project with a $5 million donation to the University of Texas at San Antonio, which will give out $4 million to seven people who present promising ideas about the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and say they’ll work to prove it. Unusually, applicants aren’t required to have a scientific background. (The Oskar Fischer Project also contributed to the AHA-Allen initiative.)

Separately, the Rainwater Charitable Foundation said it would offer multi-million dollar awards for advances related to progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). The foundation also promised an annual award of $250,000 starting in 2019 to an investigator who contributes to the understanding of diseases impacted by a protein, tau, that has been implicated in PSP and some other neurodegenerative diseases. Billionaire investor Richard Rainwater, who died from PSP in 2015, started the foundation in the 1990s.