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2023 Zenith Fellows Award Program (ZEN)

Blood Redox Biomarker for Dementia

Could a biomarker of inflammation in the blood predict cognitive resilience and Alzheimer’s risk?

Gregory Brewer, Ph.D.
University of California
Irvine, CA - United States


Research suggests the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s start decades before memory loss and other clinical signs become evident. Current research suggests there may be an association between sleep-related disorders and the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. Studies suggest that sleep deprivation may increase Alzheimer’s risk by promoting the accumulation of abnormal beta-amyloid and tau proteins that form plaques and tangles respectively, both hallmark brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. Sleep is also needed to help restore the balance between oxidants (which may damage cells) and antioxidants (which are protective). This balance is known as “redox state” and when the balance is disrupted, can cause oxidative stress which has been implicated in brain cell damage in Alzheimer’s. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that is increasingly prevalent as people age. Disruption of sleep quantity and quality by OSA is associated with oxidative stress, which can lead to brain inflammation and brain cell damage. Dr. Gregory Brewer and colleagues believe this may contribute to and magnify a shift in the overall balance of the system’s redox state and influence the development of Alzheimer’s.

Research Plan

Dr. Brewer and team have developed blood tests for biological markers (or biomarkers) of redox state. They will conduct long-term studies to determine whether an oxidative blood redox state is able to reflect measures consistent with the presence of cognitive decline better than current brain scanning methods. The researchers will study if their biomarker of redox state is able to predict cognitive decline over a two-year period in older, cognitively unimpaired individuals using blood samples, brain scans, and neuropsychological exams. Next, the team will conduct a sleep study to learn whether OSA severity impacts redox state. Finally, Dr. Brewer and colleagues will investigate the relationship between redox state and “cognitive resilience,” a term used to describe individuals who have risk factors for Alzheimer’s but do not have cognitive impairment.


If successful, the results may help explain why some individuals with risk factors for Alzheimer’s are cognitively resilient. The findings may also lead to further validation of a new low-cost, blood-based biomarker for Alzheimer’s.

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