Alzheimer's Disease

Photos of beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient

Tufts' discoveries are offering new hope for better treatments and even a cure for Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition leading to memory loss, dementia, and eventually death. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and few treatments are able to slow its devastating symptoms—at least not yet.

Researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) are opening new possibilities for treatments and ideally a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by taking “the road less traveled.” Glial cells— long thought to be the silent neighbors of neurons— are gaining attention as key players in how we might prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Once thought to be mere glue for other cells, they actually play an important role in cell communication and transmission. A pioneer in the field of glial research, Philip Haydon, chairs the TUSM Department of Neuroscience.

TUSM faculty are also leveraging deep expertise in the molecular mechanisms that regulate healthy brain activity to better understand what is going off-track in the occurrence of neurodegenerative disease, such as the production of beta-amyloid proteins in Alzheimer’s. These proteins form the hallmark “plaques” observed in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, eventually shutting down neurotransmission, much like the plaques that clog arteries resulting in coronary heart disease. Additional researchers at Tufts are exploring the brain’s regulation of mood, sleep, and memory storage—all of which provide vital clues to understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Innovation in Alzheimer's Research

  • Tufts has demonstrated that activating certain glia receptors can clear the build-up of beta-amyloid plaques and reverse memory and learning loss.
  • While most Alzheimer’s research has focused on methods to directly reduce plaques — an approach that fails in clinical trials—Tufts is taking a different approach. We believe there is more hope for drug therapies that regulate production of beta-amyloid rather than eliminate it. By indirectly targeting beta-amyloid production, we hope to develop a drug treatment with fewer side effects.
  • Tufts researchers are working on studies that show similarities between chronic neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and the body’s neurological response to sudden head trauma, such as a fall or a stroke. Studying common traits will lead to new knowledge about what triggers Alzheimer’s and how it progresses.
  • Our world-class imaging and behavior modeling is showing how memories are stored in the healthy brain, and how those mechanisms are changed or disrupted by disease.
  • Tufts research is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. The results have been published in leading journals including The Journal of Neuroscience and Neuron.

Read more about our principal faculty in Alzheimer's Disease research.

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