Levi Beverly, PhD, believes he can use his cancer research to help in the quest to understand a cause and find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and the National Institute on Aging is providing funding to allow him to investigate further.
To generate new ideas in Alzheimer’s disease research, the National Institute on Aging, one of the National Institutes of Health, has offered researchers in other fields already funded by the NIH additional money to explore links between their current field of research and Alzheimer’s disease. Beverly, a UofL cancer researcher, has received one of the first rounds of these $385,000 awards.
“They are hoping to spark some new directions, uncovering potential new areas for research,” said Beverly, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UofL. “This will get more people involved in the work and develop some preliminary seed data.”
Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases affect more than 5 million people in the United States. As the population ages, this number is increasing.
Beverly’s primary research grant from the National Cancer Institute is to study ubiquilin proteins in cancer. Ubiquilin proteins are critical adapters that appear to be central to signaling pathways driving Alzheimer’s disease as well as cancer.
“The protein ubiquilin is lost in both cancer and Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases,” Beverly said. “What we hope to discover is how this protein, which is associated with aberrant cell growth in cancer, also is associated with aberrant cell death in neurodegenerative diseases.”
Beverly plans to use the new funding to determine whether and how ubiquilin regulates contradictory signaling pathways in neuronal cells and epithelial cells, and how the loss of ubiquilin affects multiple types of tissues.
Robert Friedland, MD, professor of neurology at UofL who has conducted research in Alzheimer’s disease for more than three decades, is collaborating with Beverly on the project.
“We have known for many years that protein folding patterns are critical to neuronal damage in Alzheimer’s,” Friedland said. “The work Dr. Beverly has done with ubiquilin has uncovered pathways that may be involved in key mechanisms of both Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. We anticipate that the interaction of researchers in cancer and neurodegeneration will help advance both fields.”
With combined annual national expenditures of approximately $300 billion for cancer and Alzheimer’s diseases in the U.S., these conditions represent two of the largest burdens on the health care system. Beverly believes the laboratory research conducted in this project will facilitate the development of therapeutic interventions for these diseases.
“Only by understanding the basic molecular, biochemical and genetic causes of these diseases will we be able to make significant progress in treating these patients,” Beverly said.