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Alzheimer’s research at University of Lethbridge gets huge funding boost

Click to play video: 'University of Lethbridge Alzheimer’s research lab receives CIHR grant' University of Lethbridge Alzheimer’s research lab receives CIHR grant
Alzheimer's research at the University of Lethbridge received a significant funding boost from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in hopes to get closer to a cure for dementia. Upwards of 800,000 Canadians are living with the disease; more than 50,000 of whom are in Alberta. Jaclyn Kucey has more. – Feb 7, 2022

A research lab at the University of Lethbridge is making strides to uncover an explanation for Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Athan Zovoilis, Canada research chair in RNA bioinformatics and genomics at U of L, has just received a grant of $918,000 over five years from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

Zovoilis has been researching Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade.

PhD students and fellow scientist Dr. Majid Mohajerani are combining their expertise in genome sciences and neurodegeneration with his.

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George Andrews, CEO of Alzheimer’s Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, says U of L is “competing on the world stage. It’s no small feat to be successful in getting a CIHR grant. This is an acknowledgement of the quality of work that’s happening at the University of Lethbridge.”

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“The answer to what causes Alzheimer’s disease is a very complex one, and it is a very complex one because [it] is a very complex disease. This is why it has taken so many decades to actually understand some of the basic causes of [the] disease,” says Zovoilis.

“Unfortunately, still, we don’t really have treatments that can cure Alzheimer’s disease.”

Read more: Dementia patient transferred from Alberta hospital ends up at wrong address

Across Canada, there are almost 800,000 people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s specifically. In Alberta, there are over 50,000 people living with a diagnosis.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, it costs the Canadian economy approximately $40 billion to support patients and their families living with this illness. This does not include the 40-million volunteer hours estimated for family caregivers.

Zovoilis likes to refer to DNA as a book of life.

“We know that all the information that we have on our DNA is encoded in four chemical letters A, C, G and T. And all these letters make words phrases, whole chapters that can define whether somebody could get Alzheimer’s disease or not,” said Zovoilis.

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“If you wanted to include this in a book, you would need more than 1,000 pages, and more than one 120 books, so a whole library.”

Read more: Dementia, Alzheimer’s most common disease associated with COVID-19 deaths: StatCan

Zovoilis found that there is an area of DNA, called dark matter, that researchers have been ignoring because it was difficult to explore with slower sequencing.

With faster technology, “we try to find whether specific molecules that are produced from this dark matter of our genome are actually changing in Alzheimer’s disease patients.”

The research unveiled a trend of higher levels of this dark matter in people with memory loss. The team will now use mice models to target the dark matter to see if Alzheimer’s symptoms improve.

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“If this is successful, then the next stage would be actually to see how we can use these substances in humans and potentially bring these later states to a clinical trial,” says Zovoilis.

“This [research] is very timely because the Canadian [baby boomer] population is aging, and aging is very closely connected with the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Zovoilis.
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