The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has announced a grant totaling more than a million dollars for John F. MacDonald’s research on Alzheimer’s disease. MacDonald is the Director of the Robarts Research Institute at The University of Western Ontario.
“If you have a stroke and survive, you have a very high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. These diseases are already taking a huge toll on society and costing billions of dollars in health care costs,” says MacDonald. “With the aging population, it’s a true growth illness.”
The basic problem is how to prevent nerve cells in the brain from dying, and no longer being able to communicate information. The CIHR funding, which totals $1,086,625 over five years, will allow MacDonald to investigate the transmission process between nerve cells. In particular, he’s interested in how a unique ion channel, TRPM2, couples with a glutamate receptor called NMDA to assist learning and memory. If this receptor becomes over-activated, for example during a stroke, it produces toxicity which damages or kills the brain cell.
MacDonald has developed a peptide which will be tested to see if it’ll prevent this toxic interaction, without interfering with normal activity.
MacDonald is also one of the co-authors of a Stroke-related study in the September 6th Advance Online Publication of the prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience. Scientists from the University of Toronto, Robarts Research Institute, the Mayo Clinic in Florida, and Kyoto University in Japan identified a way to prevent the death of neurons in the brain by inhibiting the expression of a channel called TRPM7. Michael Tymianski of Toronto was the lead on the study.
MacDonald is collaborating with researchers in Toronto, Japan and Ireland on the CIHR project. He’s also part of an informal network of researchers across Canada dedicated to finding ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. “Finding new types of pharmacological therapy for Alzheimer’s and related diseases is likely the most important health and social concern for Canada and the developed world.”