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2023 Alzheimer's Association Clinical Scientist Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AACSF-D)

Association Between Longitudinal Changes in Plasma GFAP and AD Progression

Can changes in levels of a protein in the blood help predict how Alzheimer’s progresses in the brain?

Sarah Abbas, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA - United States


Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disorder, researchers are exploring ways to monitor the disease’s progression over time. Such monitoring often involves tracking changes in biological markers (biomarkers) linked to the disease. According to recent studies, the progression of Alzheimer’s may be linked, in part, to changes in a protein called glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). GFAP is expressed by astrocytes, a type of “helper” cell in the brain, and it is thought to help maintain astrocytic structure and function. In early-stage Alzheimer’s, however, astrocytes become overly active and may promote dementia-related brain changes, such as inflammation and loss of memory. Studies have found, moreover, that changes in astrocyte function over the course of dementia can be predicted by the gradual build-up of GFAP protein in the blood (or plasma GFAP). These findings indicate the need for more studies of plasma GFAP as a potential Alzheimer’s biomarker.

Research Plan

Dr. Sarah Abbas and colleagues will analyze plasma GFAP levels and other factors of Alzheimer’s from around 1,600 individuals at different stages of Alzheimer’s progression. The participant group will also represent a diverse mix of White, Hispanic, Black and Asian individuals. Dr. Abbas and team will assess how changes in plasma GFAP levels are related to (1) cognitive decline over the course of Alzheimer’s and (2) changes over time in other dementia-related protein biomarkers, such as tau and beta-amyloid (two hallmark brain changes in Alzheimer’s). The researchers will also assess how these relationships may differ in individuals of different ethnicities and backgrounds. 


Results of this study could help clarify the role of astrocytes and astrocyte-related proteins in Alzheimer’s. They could also identify plasma GFAP as a novel biomarker for use in Alzheimer’s clinical trials and, ultimately, in Alzheimer’s diagnostic procedures.

This project was made possible by the Dale Schenk Alzheimer's Association Research Roundtable Award

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