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.
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.”
“Unfortunately, still, we don’t really have treatments that can cure Alzheimer’s disease.”
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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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“We expect a tsunami of cases [in the next few years].”