Sept. 23, 2020

Research team discovers breakthrough with potential to prevent, reverse Alzheimer's

Wayne Chen's lab at UCalgary identifies a way to interrupt and prevent progression of devastating condition
Dr. Wayne Chen, PhD, in his lab
Dr, Wayne Chen, PhD, in his lab

A research team at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) led by Dr. S.R. Wayne Chen, PhD, has made an exciting breakthrough with the potential to prevent and reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The team discovered that limiting the open time of a channel called the ryanodine receptor, which acts like a gateway to cells located in the heart and brain, reverses and prevents progression of Alzheimer’s disease in animal models. They also identified a drug that interrupts the disease process.

The effect of giving the drug to animal models was remarkable: After one month of treatment, the memory loss and cognitive impairments in these models disappeared.

“The significance of identifying a clinically used drug that acts on a defined target to provide anti-Alzheimer’s disease benefits can’t be overstated,” says Chen, a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the CSM. Dr. Jinjing Yao, PhD, a student of Chen, is the first author of the study.

The results of this groundbreaking study were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Cell Reports

This work is potentially highly impactful as more than half a million Canadians live with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, suffering memory loss and other cognitive impairments with a negative impact on quality of life.

The science behind the findings

Previous research has shown that the progression of Alzheimer’s disease is driven by a vicious cycle of the protein amyloid β (Aβ) inducing hyperactivity at the neuron level. However, the mechanism behind this wasn’t fully understood, nor were there effective treatments to stop the cycle.  

Chen’s team used a portion of an existing drug used for heart patients, carvedilol, to treat mice models with Alzheimer’s symptoms. After a month of treatment, researchers tested animal models with very promising results.

“We treated them for a month and the effect was quite amazing,” says Chen, explaining the drug was successful in reversing major symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. “We couldn’t tell the drug-treated disease models and the healthy models apart.”

Chen, a Clarivate Highly Cited Researcher, is optimistic about the future of this research. However, there are many steps to be taken before this finding would lead to a clinical trial. 

If you are interested in finding out about clinical trials that are underway related to Alzheimer’s you can go to Participate in Research. There you’ll find a number of studies looking for participants including control subjects, people not living with a specific condition.

Dr. Wayne Chen, PhD

Dr. Wayne Chen, PhD

Britton Ledingham for the Libin Cardiovascular Institute

Wayne Chen is UCalgary’s Heart and Stroke Chair in Cardiovascular Research, as well as a professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the CSM. Led by the Hotchkiss Brain InstituteBrain and Mental Health is one of six research strategies guiding the University of Calgary toward its Eyes High goals. The strategy provides a unifying direction for brain and mental health research at the university.

This research was supported by philanthropic donations from the Alvin and Mona Libin Foundation, Canadian Pacific Railway Company, and Sam and Beverley Mozell.

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