After attracting some of the top biomedical research scientists to Palm Beach County, Scripps Florida continues to strengthen its ties to the community through a new partnership with the Palm Beach Civic Association.
In becoming a Corporate Sponsor of PBCA, Scripps Florida adds new depth to its commitment to the Palm Beach community – a commitment that remains consistent with the organization’s “bench to bedside” approach to biomedical research. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Even though Alzheimer’s disease was first identified more than century ago, biomedical research has only recently begun to understand its causes, progress and risk factors – within just the last three decades, as a matter of fact.
While we know far more about the disease today than we did just a few years ago, there is so much that we don’t understand, such why it affects everyone differently or what happens in the brain to light the fuse to this time bomb that will effect some 16 million Americans by 2050. Worldwide, nearly 45 million people have the disease, yet only one-in-four who have it have been diagnosed.
The cost in lives ruined is staggering; the financial cost equally devastating. For example, the cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. alone is estimated to be $226 billion in 2015, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, while the global cost of Alzheimer’s and dementia is estimated to be $605 billion, a sum that is equal to one percent of the entire world’s gross domestic product.
What we know is this: The adult brain has about 100 billion neurons and about 100 trillion synapses, the electro-chemical end points that form connections with other neurons, a vast and vastly complex neural network that is composed of millions of thoughts, memories and emotions that ultimately make up who we are as individuals.
Alzheimer’s disease breaks those connections through the misfolding of specific proteins into structures that lead them to cluster together into what is commonly called plaque, a degenerative goo that slowly chokes off the brain’s ability to remember – it kills memories. In other neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s, this misfolding kills other types of nerve cells, in this case, those essential to proper movement.
The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA), which was signed into law in January 2011, recognizes this growing emergency – what some have called correctly, a tsunami – was designed to help prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's Disease by 2025 by encouraging new research into the disease, but not enough funds have been appropriated to meet these ambitious goals.
The work of Scripps Florida scientists continues to move this research forward, to turn the potential of discovery into medical realities that can make a difference in the lives of patients.
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) are engaged in the battle against this constantly encroaching devastation every day, seeking to unravel the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and come up with novel ways to diagnose and treat what is today an untreatable disease.
Image: Scripps Florida Associate Professors Courtney Miller and Gavin Rumbaugh.
Recently, scientists from the Jupiter campus have found that a type of genetic material called “microRNA” plays surprisingly different roles in the formation of memory in animal models. In some cases, these RNAs increase memory, while others decrease it. Among the five miRNAs identified in this study, one was found to be necessary for memory formation, and that, interestingly enough, was altered in several human neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s. It’s possible that this might be a potential model to study and solve some specific aspects of those disorders.
Another Scripps Florida scientist was awarded just over $1 million from the NIH to develop a series of tests that could point the way to potential new ways to find therapies for a host of debilitating diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The link between these seemingly disparate diseases is a specific protein that is an important contributor to stress-induced cell death in key cell types, including neurons, heart muscle cells and beta-islets (which store and release insulin).
Because early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease will be critical to developing a treatment, other scientists from the Florida campus have created a novel technology that is able to detect the presence of immune molecules specific to Alzheimer’s disease in patients’ blood samples. While still preliminary, the findings offer clear proof that this breakthrough technology could be used in the development of biomarkers for a range of human diseases. The new research challenges conventional wisdom and uses synthetic molecules to successfully detect signs of disease in patients’ blood samples.
Biomedical research like the kind going on at Scripps Florida is everyone’s concern. Only by working together can we hope to advance our record of discovery, to support the education and careers of scientists who are just starting out – and those just reaching their prime – and to keep building on our past achievements so that we can keep moving into the future.