Ira Pastor, ideaXme longevity and aging Ambassador and founder of Bioquark, interviews Professor Ruth Itzhaki, Emeritus Professor, Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology at The University of Manchester.
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The last several shows we have spent time on different hierarchical levels of the biologic-architecture of the life and aging process. We’ve spent some time talking about the genome, the microbiome, systems biology, and tissue engineering. We’ve dabbled a bit in the area of quantum biology, chronobiology, and even the hydrodynamics of life.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of those conditions that, while not responsible for as many annual deaths as say cancer or heart disease, is a problem that is growing substantially in our rapidly aging population, and is predicted to become an epidemic of major proportions (in both direct and indirect costs to society) in the coming decades.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. For most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and available treatments offer relatively small symptomatic benefit and remain palliative in nature.
The predominant area of clinical research, which is focused on treating what has been thought to be the primary underlying disease pathology, that is beta-amyloid plaque formation, and their attempted reduction via traditional drugs, scavenging by immuno-therapies, or vaccination for the amyloid protein itself, have been using up billions in research funding and have yielded very lackluster results to date in the clinic. So much so, that many members of big pharma are getting out of the Alzheimer’s space entirely.
This has prompted a set of thought leaders to ask the big question: is beta-amyloid even the right target that we should be focusing on? Or, is it (and the related tau neurofibrillary tangles) forms of damage that are far downstream from much more important biological events that we should be paying more attention to, especially as recent work in the literature has shown us that there may be a lot of benefits to beta-amyloid, from the formation of the fetal brain during development, to the protection of the blood brain barrier integrity after traumatic injury, to even the prevention of infection in the brain.
Our guest today is Professor Ruth Itzhaki, Emeritus Professor, Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology at The University of Manchester.
With a BS, MS, and PhD in Biophysics, Dr. Itzhaki has had a career full of a diverse range of research activities including studying: iron-binding in plasma; the effects of ionizing radiation on natural and synthetic macromolecules; the study of chromatin structure and the effects of irradiation and carcinogens on chromatin; and the effects of viruses in neurological disease.
More recently she has been specifically studying Alzheimer’s disease, and the role of viruses acting with genetic factors in dementia.
Dr. Itzhaki’s group has been investigating whether a common virus, which many elderly people harbor within their brain, may have a causative role in Alzheimer’s Disease. Their group discovered that the viral DNA is located specifically within plaques and that infection with this virus causes production of the main components of plaques and tangles (called beta-amyloid and abnormal tau).
Their recent experiments with antiviral agents indicate that they might be an effective treatment to slow Alzheimer’s Disease progression in that they decrease the levels of beta-amyloid and abnormal tau which the virus induces. Also, the future possibility exists of prevention of the disease by vaccination against the virus.
This virus work won her an Investigator award from the Lancet, a Wellcome Trust Innovative award, two Olympus Foundation awards, an Alzheimer’s Research Forum award and a Manchester City Council award.
Today we will hear from Dr. Itzhaki:
About her background, where she grew up, and how she became interested in science, biophysics, and eventually how she finds herself in this fascinating area of neurobiology. About the challenges of going against “ingrained doctrine” in biomedical research. Her work in studying the viral causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, her future visions for therapeutic options using these new approaches.
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