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UICOMP Professor Earns $2.4M Grant For Alzheimer’s Research

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University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria professor Dr. Ken Fukuchi has been awarded a $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for his Alzheimer's Disease research.

Dr. Ken Fukuchi hopes his research into Alzheimer’s disease can lead to new options for treatment and prevention of the affliction.

Fukuchi, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria, was recently awarded a $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for his five-year study into links between known risk factors and brain inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s.

“Many epidemiological studies indicate that these risk factors – for example, obesity, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, high levels of cholesterol – are associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Fukuchi.

“However, scientists do not know how these risk factors increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. That molecular mechanism is what we want to study; we want to know that how these risk factors, particularly periphery inflammation, increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Fukuchi’s research suggests a connection between the chronic inflammation and development of plaques and other molecular bodies that compromise active brain cells. His study will examine test subjects for more understanding of the connection.

“They develop abnormal protein aggregates of protein called the amyloids, and also they develop tangles composed of a component of neurons,” said Fukuchi. “These aggregates are abnormal and they are toxic to the neurons. We have animals where we study how these inflammations induce brain changes.”

Fukuchi said the nature of brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease make them particularly difficult to understand and develop solutions.

“Treating a brain disease is extremely difficult because the brain is a complex organ. The problem is that once a neuron or functional brain cell dies, then we cannot save those dead neurons,” he said. “Those are the challenges for the Alzheimer’s research community.”

Fukuchi said the NIH grant shows a commitment to Alzheimer’s research that has gained momentum over the past five years.

“Thanks to the NIH support, the level of funding increased dramatically for an enormous increase in dementia research,” he said. “I think we are making very good progress on understanding how Alzheimer’s develops, as well as how to solve the problem and how to treat the patients and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

Fukuchi said that identifying the link between the risk factors and the abnormal inflammation will help develop better methods for keeping people from developing Alzheimer’s in the first place.

“We have more knowledge now about how Alzheimer’s disease develops, so we have more ways to prevent it – just like how to prevent heart disease or how to prevent diabetes,” he said. “So prevention is more and more important, and that is more in our hands.”

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