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Fresh Updates on Alzheimer’s

06/09/08
USC researcher Christian Pike and others outline the latest findings and possible treatments for the disease.
By Athan Bezaitis
Pike was a keynote speaker at the USC Andrus Gerontology Center.

Photo/Athan Bezaitis
USC Davis School of Gerontology associate professor Christian Pike and UCLA professor Greg Cole, two national leaders in Alzheimer’s disease research, were keynote speakers at the fifth annual Alzheimer’s Disease Research Update Day June 6.

The symposium welcomed clinicians, graduate students and Southern California faculty who discussed their latest findings at the USC Andrus Gerontology Center.

Guests from the University of California, Irvine and Cal State Channel Islands joined co-sponsors from USC, UCLA and the Alzheimer’s Association who shared research on the disease from a variety of perspectives, including medicinal chemistry, neuropsychology, hormone therapy, brain imaging, basic clinical research and treatment guidelines.

Following a morning session, Pike discussed the role of steroids in cell death associated with Alzhemier’s. His presentation focused on the hormones progesterone, estrogen and testosterone and their implications in the treatment of the disease in both men and women.

Pike’s lab explores the interactions between estrogen and progesterone in the regulation of neurodegenerative loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease in women. Similarly, in men, age-related loss of androgen, a sex steroid hormone that produces testosterone, is also linked to increased risk factors for the disease.

“In rodent models, we have observed that depletion of androgens (such as testosterone) accelerates development of Alzheimer’s disease-like neuropathology and increases neuronal vulnerability to toxicity,” Pike said.

Doses of hormones or synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of hormones on the body may one day serve as potential preventive treatments, Pike explained.

Prevention and treatment was the focus of Cole’s presentation.

Cole, a professor of medicine and neurology and associate director of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA, has published more than 100 articles on the development of compounds as potential treatments for protecting against beta amyloid build-up, the plaque that develops in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients.

Easton discussed the potential for Alzheimer’s disease prevention from the use of omega 3 fatty acids such as those found in fish and the curry spice extract curcumin to control inflammation and oxidative damage.

Curcumin is used extensively in Asian and Indian cuisine to make curry, pilaf and chutney.

“Researchers have found Americans have four times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as the people in India,” Cole said. While the intuitive solution would be to buy curcumin over the counter, Cole reminded the audience that “in supplement form, 99 percent goes right through you.”

The trick, Cole advised, is making it available to the brain, “and the best way to do that so far is to use it in your food.”

After Cole’s presentation, Margaret Gatz, USC College professor of psychology, thanked those in attendance. Gatz co-hosted the event with Joshua Grill, education core director at the UCLA Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“I’m so pleased all the schools in attendance had this opportunity to interact,” Gatz said.

“Collaboration is everything,” Grill added. “The more people can get outside of their niche to see what other research is happening, the better.”

The conference was co-sponsored by the USC Memory and Aging Center, the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA, the USC/UCLA Center on Biodemography and Population Health and the Alzheimer’s Association, California Southland Chapter.