Other Ongoing Studies
Our Center conducts research into underlying disease processes.
The Brain Research Autopsy Program
In order to learn about memory loss in aging, USC researchers study the brain changes and genetics of people with and without memory loss. Research is often dependent on comparing normal aging changes to the changes that are seen in people with memory loss, so people without memory loss are very important to the study.
One of the main goals is to verify a diagnosis of AD or its absence. The autopsy enables family members to receive a definitive diagnosis. Other goals include supplying tissue for research studies conducted by USC and other universities. There are a number of diseases with symptoms similar to Alzheimer disease, which in its later stages is sometimes mistaken for other kinds of dementias.
Neuropathology Core Research
Understanding cellular and molecular changes in the human brain in Alzheimer’s Disease is critical for defining the causes, and for developing both preventive and therapeutic strategies at each stage of the disease. Research is promoted by projects that directly use brain tissues prepared to preserve both critical structures and molecular mechanisms that contribute to the pathology. The brain tissues provide a “gold standard,” as animal disease models, although highly helpful, do not fully replicate the disease.
The Core actively supports funded projects both at USC, in neighboring institutions, and contributes to nationwide genomic and biomarker initiatives. Recently, participation in three genome-wide association studies have revealed several new candidate genes that may contribute to the Alzheimer disease process. Other dementing diseases are also being screened using brain tissues as well as blood samples. In this way, the contributions of several genes may combine to affect the disease onset and severity.
Emphasis has also included contributions of vascular related factors such as hypercholesterolemia, to Alzheimer’s disease. Molecular changes in the nerve terminals, comparisons of pathology in the postmortem eye (retina) with those in live AD patients, and sex steroid hormone effects on disease progression are other areas of research focus. Overall impact of ethnic, genetic and cultural factors of the disease on the nervous system is highlighted in our studies on Latino subjects.
The Aging Brain Project
The 3 most common causes of memory and thinking changes in late life are aging, arteriosclerosis and Alzheimer disease. Arterosclerosis may affect the delivery of nutrients to brain cells, while Alzheimer disease upsets the internal chemistry of neurons.
The Aging Brain Project is a natural history study that examines the relationship between arteriosclerosis and the structure and function of the brain. We pay particular attention to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus, which are treatable risk factors. We also consider possible additive effects of aging and Alzheimer disease. The study is funded by the National Institute on Aging.
We invite persons who are 70 year or older, have a history of vascular risk factors, heart disease or stroke, and who have no or mild memory loss to consider participation. The study includes memory testing, MRI scan of the brain, carotid doppler and retinal imaging. The study does not involve any experimental medications or invasive procedures.