Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Lessons in Alzheimer’s disease

Written by Matthew Broder, BS candidate, University of Notre Dame, and participant in the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program 

Alzheimer’s research is constantly leading to new discoveries | Photo: Pexels

As a student in the Summer Research Program – Aging and Neurological Diseases track, I recently attended a presentation on Alzheimer’s disease by Justin Long, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He gave an in-depth overview of what we know about Alzheimer’s, including its pathology and clinical presentation, as well as how it is diagnosed, and what treatment options are and what they might look like in the future. I learned about the role of the amyloid-beta and tau proteins in disease progression, which I’m also researching in the Karch Lab. Assistant Professor Long presented his insights in diagnosing the disease from his experience in seeing patients, highlighting that short-term memory is most affected, while long-term memory remains relatively unaffected. So, someone with Alzheimer’s would remember their friends from high school, but they would forget where they placed their keys the previous night. That was interesting to hear: my grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, and I observed that behavior in him.

Assistant Professor Long also gave an overview of ongoing research in the field, including the role that WashU is playing. I found it fascinating how we’re finding new ways to test for Alzheimer’s disease long before symptoms even begin through spinal taps and blood tests that show upwards of 90% accuracy. Assistant Professor Long also detailed research into pharmacological treatments for the disease. The drugs that we have right now are modestly effective at treating symptoms, but they do not target the pathology or slow the progression of the disease. New research from earlier this year, however, is showing that therapy involving anti-amyloid monoclonal antibodies may be able to slow progression. They work by binding to the amyloid protein that has built up in the brain and clearing it out.

Overall, I found Assistant Professor Long’s presentation incredibly interesting, and I left feeling confident that we will be able to find effective treatment and prevention options for Alzheimer’s in my lifetime. Hopefully, these discoveries are something that I will be able to be a part of! I’m also incredibly grateful to the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program for making this presentation possible.