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Harvard Researchers Receive Grant to Develop New Treatments for Neurodegenerative Diseases

The Vranos Family Foundation provided a grant to a team of Harvard professors to aid research in treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.
The Vranos Family Foundation provided a grant to a team of Harvard professors to aid research in treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. By Melanie Y. Fu
By Austin H. Wang, Crimson Staff Writer

A team of Harvard researchers received a grant from the Vranos Family Foundation for a five-year project seeking to find new methods to treat neurodegenerative diseases, according to a December press release.

The researchers on the project include Harvard Medical School professors Zak Kohane and Chirag Patel, Psychology and Neuroscience professor Randy L. Buckner, and Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology professors Paola Arlotta and Lee Rubin. The team will conduct both laboratory experiments and computational analyses to determine how the effects of brain aging can be halted or reversed.

The project grew out of earlier experiments by Rubin and other scientists that surgically joined younger and older mice. The experiments suggested that certain blood factors from younger mice, when infused into old mice, had rejuvenating effects on many tissues in old mice, including the brain.

“Most people, when they want to treat a disease, like Alzheimer's disease, are hoping to slow the rate of deterioration — that would be what you would really dream of doing,” Rubin said. “But these experiments in mice suggest that you can do more than slow the deterioration, you can actually reverse the directionality of the changes, so that you can regrow some of the things that you lost as a consequence of aging.”

The team plans to compare key blood factors related to youth to develop treatments for complications associated with the aging brain, such as Alzheimer’s and loss of cognitive ability.

“One of the big goals in the program is to try to do a sufficient number of experiments and bring in a sufficient number of computational people to try to compare all of the factors that have an effect on the brain — to see whether we can identify key processes they all affect,” Rubin said. “Then we try to develop a therapeutic that just goes directly after that process.”

Though the team’s research focuses on the science of aging, Rubin also emphasized the importance of taking into account the existing inequities in healthcare and the accessibility of potential aging treatments.

“Aging isn’t just a science problem — it’s a societal problem,” he said. “We’re the scientists in this, but I think we also have to be very mindful that we won’t be really successful unless we can think of a way of coming up with a treatment that works and hopefully is affordable.”

“We're really kind of banding together to see if we could discover an effective therapy and actually bring it to the clinic,” Rubin added.

—Staff writer Austin H. Wang can be reached at austin.wang@thecrimson.com.

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ResearchSciences DivisionHarvard Medical SchoolSCRB