Dr. Francesca-Fang Liao of UTHSC Receives $ 412,500 Grant for Alzheimer’s Disease Research

Francesca-Fang Liao, PhD, and her research team hope to gain further insight into the cause of the Alzheimer's disease.
Francesca-Fang Liao, PhD, and her research team hope to gain further insight into the cause of the Alzheimer’s disease.

Memphis, Tenn. (October 31, 2012) – Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a devastating neurodegenerative illness that afflicts more than 5 million Americans. Francesca-Fang Liao, PhD, and her research team hope to gain further insight into the cause of the disease. A $412,500 grant from the National Institute on Aging, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will help her pursue her goal. The award will fund her two-year study entitled, “AD Pathogenesis in a Novel Mouse Diet Model with a Partial eNOS Deficiency.” Michael McDonald, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Neurology, and Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), is Dr. Liao’s co-investigator.

“We are very excited,” said Dr. Liao who is associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UTHSC. “Our dream for the past years had been to come up with a more representative mouse model for sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. This recognition from NIH will enable us to take our first step toward this dream.”

Other than mutations, which are the cause for about only 1 percent of individuals affected, the majority of AD cases are sporadic in nature with a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors, specifically cardio-metabolic factors. As a result, AD is considered a type of metabolic syndrome in the central nervous system.

Since high cholesterol is the biggest risk factor for AD in the middle-age population, Dr. Liao and her research team will develop the rodent model for sporadic AD and will use a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, in rodents that suffer from partially irregular blood flow. They anticipate that chronic feeding of eNOS deficient rodents with cholesterol-enriched food — typical Western diets– will cause AD-like symptoms in their bodies.

If the research is successful, Dr. Liao and her research team will be allowed to further investigate vascular origin, including brain inflammation, and amyloid pathology and origin*. This additional exploration will greatly broaden knowledge of the causes of the disease and likely identify novel therapeutic targets in the near future.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

As the flagship statewide academic health system, the mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service. Offering a broad range of postgraduate and selected baccalaureate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Allied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. UTHSC also educates and trains cohorts of medicine, pharmacy and/or allied health students — in addition to medical residents and fellows — at its major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. Founded in 1911, during its more than 100 years, UT Health Science Center has educated and trained more than 53,000 health care professionals in academic settings and health care facilities across the state. For more information, visit www.uthsc.edu.

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*amyloid pathology and origin- the distinguishing trait of highly grouped species that are toxic to neuronal connections (pathways in the brain by which information travels)