|Biomedical researcher receives $1.5 million from NIH|
The role diet and the environment play in causing Alzheimer’s disease is the focus of new funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a biomedical research scientist at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Othman Ghribi received a five-year RO1 grant, totaling nearly $1.5 million, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study the links between high cholesterol levels and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
This is the largest individual grant awarded to a UND researcher for the study of Alzheimer’s disease. RO1 grants are very difficult to obtain and are awarded to relatively few researchers.
Investigations to date in Dr. Ghribi’s lab have suggested that high cholesterol levels in the blood may be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease, he says.
In addition to cholesterol, trace metals such as iron have also been suspected to play a role in the “sporadic” forms of AD, by far the most prevalent form of the disease. A much smaller proportion of AD cases are related to a genetic mutation, he said. “In the absence of known genetic factors that lead to the sporadic form of the disease, any knowledge about risk factors that can cause or exacerbate the disease would allow us to better understand the pathophysiology of this disease,” said Ghribi, assistant professor of pharmacology, physiology and therapeutics.
It’s been shown that people with high cholesterol as well as high levels of iron in the brain are more susceptible to have the disease than people who have either high cholesterol or high levels of iron in the brain, Ghribi says.
However, to date “there’s been no animal model that combines these two risk factors to help us understand the progression of AD,” he said. It’s the combination of the risk factors, high levels of cholesterol and iron, that interests him most. He has developed an animal model that exhibits both increased cholesterol and iron levels to test his hypothesis.
“It is estimated that about five million U.S. citizens have Alzheimer’s disease,” Ghribi said. “If we don’t find some answer about its cause or the mechanisms that lead to the disease, that number will increase to 15 million people by 2050. That’s a huge health, economic and emotional burden for the people living with Alzheimer’s, the families of these people, and the government.”
Ghribi expects that, by the end of his study, “I will have a better understanding of some of the factors that lead to Alzheimer’s disease,” he said, and “if we find that the metabolism of cholesterol and/or iron is a risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease, then regulation of the metabolism of these molecules may prevent or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The NIH grant will support the hiring of three or four employees to work in his laboratory.
Ghribi’s investigations were initially funded by North Dakota Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN), now called the North Dakota IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE). More recently, his studies have been funded by the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE), a highly competitive federal initiative that helps support researchers in states which traditionally have not attracted large amounts of NIH research funding.
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