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2024 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AARF-D)

Biological Aging Underlies Neurodegeneration Across the Adult Lifespan

How does a person’s “biological age” - not their years lived - influence their risk of brain changes linked to dementia over time?

Dan Liu, Ph.D.
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases
Bonn, Germany



Background

Researchers have long understood that age is the strongest risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Studies of dementia in aging populations  often focus on chronological aging (or how many years a person has been alive). People of similar ages often have very different levels of neurodegeneration (brain damage) and overall health. Thus, it is important to study how dementia risk relates to “biological aging” (or how much decline in brain and overall health a person experiences at a given age and over time). Biological aging involves many complex factors, including changes in genes, proteins, metabolism and immune system function – all of which can impact dementia risk. 

Research Plan

Dr. Dan Liu and colleagues will devote their research grant to a study of biological aging and neurodegeneration. For this effort, they will leverage brain and health data compiled by a large study of aging in Bonn, Germany called the Rhineland Study. First, the researchers will use this data to determine how various changes in the body can determine an individual’s biological age. Their work will involve a series of advanced computational techniques known as “-omics.” Such techniques include proteomics (the study of the structure and functions of proteins made by cells) and transcriptomics (the study of how gene activity is turned “on” or “off” within a cell). Next, Dr. Liu and team will assess how omics-related biological aging relates to certain changes in brain health, including memory loss, declines in brain volume and levels of dementia-linked proteins. Third, the researchers will use results from their earlier experiments to identify specific biological processes through which biological aging leads to neurodegeneration. 

Impact

Dr. Liu’s study could clarify our understanding of how aging may influence a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia. It could also pinpoint certain biological processes that may be uniquely important in this process and may be targeted in future dementia therapies and diagnostic procedures.

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