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21 Sep | 2022

Research support, key to Alzheimer's prevention

At the Pasqual Maragall Foundation we work every day, tirelessly, to erase September 21 from the calendar and make it #adaytoforget. On World Alzheimer's Day, it is important to remember that this task would not be possible without the support of our social base, participants in studies, partners, patrons and collaborating companies. The commitment to research is essential. In this sense, the Alfa Study was launched in 2013, with the support of the ”la Caixa” Foundation, which during these years has become the cornerstone of the research of our research center, the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC). 

The Alfa Study, a research platform to identify the early characteristics of Alzheimer's, began with the aim of gathering information from the preclinical phase of the disease in order to understand its natural history. The cohort stands out internationally for the volume of participants, which exceeds 2,700 people without cognitive impairment, aged between 45 and 75, most of whom are sons and daughters of people with Alzheimer's. It is therefore a unique research platform, which remains key and a very valuable source of information for the research carried out at the BBRC.

The Foundation's innovative decision to characterize the Alfa participants, ten years ago, has allowed the development of pioneering, promising and interdisciplinary studies focused on the prevention of Alzheimer's. Among them, we find analyzes related to Alzheimer's biomarkers and other neurodegenerative diseases, with modifiable risk factors related to lifestyle, and lines such as neurogenetics, an approach that opens the door to personalized prevention strategies. As a result of the collaboration with the La Caixa Foundation, in these ten years progress has been made in different areas of Alzheimer's prevention.

Biomarkers in blood for the detection of preclinical Alzheimer's

The BBRC is one of the world leaders in plasma biomarker research for the detection of Alzheimer's disease, as well as in cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PETs) and the quantification of the amyloid load by PET. Recently, an international team led by the BBRC and the University of Gothenburg found that the plasma biomarkers p-tau231 and p-tau217 are optimal for showing the first signs of amyloid accumulation in the brain. The team was able to demonstrate that the plasma biomarker p-tau231 is particularly suitable for capturing incipient brain changes related to the amyloid protein, before the plaque of this protein manifests itself.

Associations between air pollution and Alzheimer's risk

In recent years, the data from the Alfa cohort have made it possible to analyse, in collaboration with the Global Health Institute of Barcelona (ISGlobal), the harmful effects that air pollution can have on brain health.

The studies developed indicate that it could add an increase in the risk of suffering from depression when the exposure is prolonged over time, or that people more exposed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have greater brain atrophy and less cortical thickness in specific areas of the brain that are affected in Alzheimer's disease.

In addition, these analyzes indicate that exposure to air pollution would also be related to higher levels of Alzheimer's disease biomarkers, especially in people with beta-amyloid accumulation in the brain. These are results that are in line with recent scientific studies that show that air pollution has a harmful impact on the brain and is related to the incidence of dementia.

New leading lines of research related to sleep

On the other hand, the BBRC has developed promising lines of research that have made possible to find changes in brain structure and cognition in people with insomnia, especially in the white matter and some regions that are affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. These studies open the door to a new line of research that will allow analyzing the relationship between sleep quality and Alzheimer's risk.

Benefits of blue fish consumption

The BBRC research team has led one of the largest studies carried out to date on the possible benefits of omega-3 fatty acid intake in people carrying the genotype that confers a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's: APOE ε4/ 4. The research concludes that people in this risk group who consume more docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is a nutrient provided by blue fish, have greater cortical preservation in areas of the brain specifically affected by Alzheimer's disease and a lower number of microbleeds.

Gender variables to study the relationship between parental age at onset of Alzheimer's and risk in women

The accumulation of tau and beta amyloid proteins in the brain are directly related to Alzheimer's disease. To the analysis of the initial changes in the brain related to the disease, BBRC teams have also added gender variables. Thus, it has been detected that proximity to the parental age of onset of Alzheimer's disease symptoms is related, in women, to a greater accumulation of the beta amyloid protein.

Weight loss as a possible risk indicator of developing Alzheimer's

The support of the "La Caixa" Foundation through the Alfa cohort has also made possible to detect that people with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease show a loss of weight that could precede the presence of altered biomarkers of the disease Alzheimer's, such as the accumulation of Tau and Beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, in people without cognitive impairment. The accumulation of these proteins indicates a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, and it begins to be detected up to 20 years before the manifestation of the first cognitive symptoms.
At the Pasqual Margall Foundation, we are convinced that we can only end Alzheimer's with more and better scientific research. Because this is the only way to get to know the disease better, beat it and make September 21 #adaytoforget.


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