August 27, 2007 – The Alzheimer’s Association has awarded University of Utah Brain Institute investigator Gang Liu, Ph.D., a $240,000 grant to study why Alzheimer’s patients have higher levels of metal ions such as aluminum, copper, and iron in their brains. The research could lead to new treatments using nanotechnology and slow down the progression of the disease.
According to Linda Blonsley, executive director of the Alzheimer Association’s Utah Chapter, more than 26 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease, and the number is expected to reach 100 million by 2050. It is the most common form of dementia among people over age 65 and causes progressive and irreversible damage to thought, memory, and language.
“Despite our best attempts, the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still not completely understood and a viable cure is not available,” said Blonsley. “We are pleased to be a partner with the University of Utah and are optimistic about the research coming out of the Brain Institute.”
Liu, a research assistant professor in the University’s Radiology Division and an investigator with the University’s Brain Institute, said, “We know oxidative stress is present in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and that stress is often caused by high levels of metal ions in the body. We want to find a safe, effective way to reduce the level of ions in the brain.”
Liu, along with colleague Ping Men, M.D., will evaluate whether a process known as chelation therapy can be used to reduce amount of metal ions in the brain. Past attempts at chelation therapy have been hindered because of side effects and the inability to target specific tissue.
“Our research focuses on using chelation therapy coupled with nanoparticle delivery technology, which targets the brain and causes less toxic side effects,” said Liu. “The chelation systems are designed to leave the brain after binding excess metal ions which helps reduce adverse effects of the therapy.”
He says the process also could be used to treat other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. The University has applied for a patent on the technology.