According to Sutherland, for research like this, the U of L has a slight advantage over its counterparts in Calgary and Edmonton, which helps them align more easily with the Alzheimer Society of Alberta’s research goals.
“[The] The University of Lethbridge has focused its neuroscience efforts in the direction of cognitive neuroscience and looking at the brain as a whole system. So we have acquired unique advanced tools for visualizing into the brain of living animals who carry Alzheimer’s genes,” Sutherland explained, “and [so] we’re able to longitudinally study the progress of the pathology and brain from its initial trigger to the later stages of behavioral and cognitive collapse in these animals. So that provides us with a unique set of tools and orientation, which isn’t completely absent at Alberta or Calgary, but it’s not the focus of their neuroscience efforts.”
As research continues to progress, Sutherland says research needs to shift its focus from how we deal with the disease, to how we identify the causes.
“We’re still pretty much in the dark about the actual mechanism, and that’s really where the major hope can be found through research, is if we rationally understand what triggers the disease, we have a really good chance of finding things that will stop it,” Sutherland states.
“The analogy I really like is we didn’t have very much of a clue for centuries about what caused diabetes, and then with the discovery of the degeneration of the pancreas and the loss of insulin, we were able to create insulin therapies that have dramatically turned the corner on diabetes at least type one diabetes,” says Sutherland. “So I think we’re looking for the insulin for Alzheimer’s disease. What is it that is the trigger? And how can we eliminate that?”
Until researchers get a better understanding of what causes Alzheimer’s and dementia, Sutherland says there are a number of steps people can take to minimize the risks of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“Continuing to remain cognitively active through middle age seems to be pretty important. We know that people who have higher education are far less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” Sutherland said. “Remaining physically active, moving around, both aerobic and weight-bearing exercises also stave off [Alzheimer’s and dementia]. Even more important than those two [is] correcting hearing problems as they start to occur in middle age or in senior years.”
The funding competition will launch on September 21, World Alzheimer’s Day, as part of the Hope for Tomorrow campaign and will support Alberta-based researchers to progress the development of more effective treatments and build pathways to a cure.
READ MORE: Lethbridge News Now