NIH division awards $2.5M for PET-based Alzheimer's research

The National Institute on Aging has awarded Wake Forest School of Medicine a five-year grant to examine if a novel PET tracer can help researchers tackle Alzheimer’s.

Lead investigator Kiran Solingapuram Sai, PhD, said the $2.53 million award will go toward studying if the radiotracer can image microscopic tubes which help define how cells are structured and move in the brain. These microtubules, as they’re known, have been connected to Alzheimer’s progression and may be a key to earlier identification.

“Microtubules are message carriers within neurons that are very tightly bundled in a healthy brain,” Sai, assistant professor of radiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine said in an announcement. “If microtubules start disintegrating or detangling, they can’t do their job anymore. The neurons begin to degenerate and cognition declines.”

Researchers will inject the PET tracer into mice with Alzheimer’s as well as healthy subjects, all while scanning their brains every two months. The imaging agent was created by Sai’s team, along with scientists at Columbia University. Their belief is that the material only binds to healthy microtubules, indicating those structures that don’t absorb the tracer will not show up on a scan—a sign of deterioration and possibly early onset of the disease.

The group will then compare the PET imaging data to behavior and cognition information and the accumulation of tau protein and beta-amyloid involved with Alzheimer’s. This will help determine if microtubule health is in fact a biomarker for neural degeneration.

“This approach could significantly improve both imaging strategies to track Alzheimer’s in its initial stages and our ability to more precisely treat patients with neurodegenerative diseases early on,” Sai said.