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Kennedy gift supports Alzheimer's research at Emory

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Kerry Ludlam

ATLANTA - Atlantans Sarah and Jim Kennedy and their family foundations have given $5 million to Emory University for innovative research projects to address Alzheimer’s disease.  

Allan Levey, MD, PhD, who directs the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and chairs Emory’s Department of Neurology, will spearhead the work, which he said will be “unlike any project to date. We look forward to moving this promising research to the next level.”  

The buildup and over-accumulation in the brain of a protein called amyloid is a key signature of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies have shown that most amyloid buildup occurs prior to memory loss and other clinical symptoms and prior to irreversible neurodegeneration. In fact, about 30 percent of healthy elderly individuals have amyloid deposits in their brains and yet are cognitively normal and have no brain degeneration.  

Emory scientists discovered that norepinephrine plays a crucial role in controlling the brain’s response to amyloid and other insults. “These studies will help us determine whether we can increase norepinephrine levels in patients with amyloid accumulation and reduce brain inflammation,” said Levey. “We then can investigate whether drugs can achieve that goal and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This research is headed towards prevention, as ultimately we aim to begin treatments and stop the disease before any symptoms begin.”  

The Emory team envisions a multi-pronged approach to identify individuals with amyloid accumulation at early stages, to develop imaging and other biomarkers to monitor norepinephrine levels and brain inflammation, and most important, to perform clinical trials to test the effectiveness of new treatments to turn brain inflammation from foe to friend and slow Alzheimer’s disease.  

Many of the exciting fundamental scientific advances providing the foundation for the proposed research have occurred in animal models and other preclinical studies. As FDA-approved drugs that effectively increase norepinephrine brain levels are already in clinical use for other conditions, and millions of individuals currently have conditions on the road to Alzheimer’s disease, there is great urgency to move these advances into human clinical research immediately.  

“Philanthropy is crucial to get promising but unproven treatments into trials and to attract federal funding. We are grateful to the Kennedys for their foresight and generosity,” said Levey.  

“We are happy to support the important work of Dr. Levey and his Emory research team and to promote awareness of this devastating disease,” said Sarah Kennedy.

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