Zombie cells could be key to alzheimer’s susceptibility
The National Institute on Aging has awarded a Michigan State University College of Human Medicine professor a nearly $3 million grant to study how aging increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and to investigate treatments that could delay or prevent it.
“The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age,” said Marcia Gordon, the study’s primary investigator and a professor of translational science and molecular medicine. “I’m trying to understand what it is about the old brain that makes it more susceptible to Alzheimer’s.”
The answer, she believes, lies in senescent cells – those that are old, still alive, but no longer capable of dividing.
“Some people call them zombie cells,” Gordon said. “These cells stop performing their normal functions and begin to send out signals that likely trigger adverse changes in the brain, including the clumping of the beta-amyloid protein and tangles of another called tau.”
Of the estimated 5.7 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s, 5.5 million are over the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Ten percent of people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. By age 85, the rate rises to 40 percent.
“We think that if we slow down the biological aging of brain cells, we will slow the rate of disease progression,” Gordon said.
Under the five-year grant, she will look at ways to delay this biological aging and deplete the number of senescent cells. Possible treatments include restricting calories, which previous research has shown is associated with longevity. Rapamycin, a drug commonly prescribed for immunosuppression in organ transplant patients, also has shown some promise of extending lifespan.