Using a $5 million grant won from the NOMIS Foundation
Using a $5 million grant won from the NOMIS Foundation

A group of Arizona-based research institutions has won a $5 million grant to help advance scientific understanding, treatment, and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease by developing a public molecular data resource.

The NOMIS Foundation, a private Swiss foundation supporting insight-driven scientific endeavors across all disciplines, has awarded the grant to the Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation on behalf of the group. It includes the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, the Banner Sun Health Research Institute, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), the Arizona State University (ASU)-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at the Biodesign Institute, and the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium.

Also participating in the collaboration project are researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“There is an urgent need to clarify the brain processes involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and use this information to discover effective ways to treat and prevent the disease,” Eric Reiman, M.D., who is spearheading the collaboration, said in a statement. Dr. Reiman is executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute, CEO of Banner Research, director of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, and a faculty member at ASU, TGen, and the University of Arizona.

Over the next four years, the group said, it plans to use the grant to develop a public resource consisting of detailed gene expression data from human brain cells and regions that differ in the vulnerability or resilience to Alzheimer’s disease. The resource is designed to help catalyze discovery of Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms, risk factors and treatments.

The project will use high-quality brain tissue from 100 brain donors with and without Alzheimer’s. The brain samples will be made available through the Banner Sun Health Research Institute’s Brain and Body Donation Program, a resource of data and brain samples collected for research into Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other cognitive changes associated with normal aging.

Through TGen, the collaboration will glean insights into the isolation of different types of brain cells, the detailed sequencing of the genes that are expressed in these brain cells, and the detailed sequencing of each of the brain donor’s inherited genes.

“Performing a comprehensive and cell-specific characterization of Alzheimer’s disease is key to clarifying the cellular and molecular complexity of this debilitating disease. In doing so, we hope to simultaneously identify new therapeutic targets and to also generate a public resource to drive continued discoveries in Alzheimer’s and aging research,” stated Winnie S. Liang, Ph.D, director of scientific operations and an assistant professor at TGen, where she is also director of the Collaborative Sequencing Center.

ASU researchers plan to apply emerging data analysis tools to interrogate and comprehend the large data sets, discover molecular networks that appear to be involved in vulnerability or resilience to different forms of Alzheimer’s pathology, and identify molecular targets at which to aim new treatments.

The ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center will focus on discovering new Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms and treatments through correlations between the data set, other human data sets, and experimental studies in mouse, cellular and other laboratory models at ASU. According to the group, the Center will focus on the “push-pull” relationship between human brain data and basic science.

“While studies in animal, cellular and other laboratory models play essential roles in this endeavor, detailed molecular data from persons with and without Alzheimer’s are needed to further inform these experimental studies and clarify the extent to which findings are relevant to this fundamentally human disease,” Dr. Reiman added.

Joining Dr. Reiman and Dr. Liang in leading the project will be Thomas G. Beach, M.D., Ph.D., of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium; and Ben Readhead, MBBS, and Joel Dudley, Ph.D., of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center and Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai.

“Rapid advances in computational biology and artificial intelligence enable us to ask powerful new questions about human health and disease,” Dr. Dudley said. “This project will enable us to generate an unprecedented quality and depth of data, which will allow us to leverage the latest computational techniques to shed new light on the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease.”

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