Role of Infectious Agents in Precipitating the Neurodegenerative changes that lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia. The greatest risk factor is age and therefore the number of sufferers is increasing with the increase in aging population. It is estimated that AD affects 35 million people worldwide, and this figure is expected to reach over 100 million by 2050. AD is an irreversible, progressive disease in which cells in specific parts of the brain controlling memory and language die. Loss of memory is the first symptom of AD and this gets steadily worse as the disease progresses. Other symptoms include behavioural problems and disturbances and personality changes. In the final stages of the disease patients are frequently unable to recognize the faces of friends or family, they have difficulty with speech, and personality changes such as aggression or irritability occur; these changes can render sufferers completely dependent on care givers. This situation puts an ever-increasing burden on society.
Current treatments for AD, at best, partially relieve symptoms, as opposed to halting disease progression, therefore there is a huge unmet need to develop new therapies for our rapidly aging population.
Previous research treated the brain as a separate entity and has not always taken into account brain-body interactions. However, recent studies suggest that exposure to infection triggers inflammatory changes in the brain, which can accelerate the development of AD. My research will focus on determining how T cells, which play a key role in the immune system in controlling infection, affect and interact with cells the brain in this disease.
Understanding the role of immune cells in AD may provide revolutionary therapies and identify possible drug targets that may prevent disease acceleration . AD currently costs the Irish economy €400 million annually. By finding a way to halt disease progression, it will surely reduce the cost associated with the disease.