Research Projects

Understanding the spark that ignites Alzheimer’s disease

Awarded to:
Professor Louise Serpell

Current award:

University of Sussex

1 August 2023 - 31 July 2026

Full project name:

The spark that ignites Alzheimer's disease: Initiation of sporadic disease






Research suggests that in most cases Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a combination of factors including age, genetics, lifestyle, and environment

However, scientists are still unclear as to how the disease begins in the first place and how it progresses. Important clues have come from genetic studies which point to the key role of amyloid in triggering Alzheimer’s. More recent work has found that another protein called tau is involved the progression of the disease.

When amyloid and tau become misfolded, the proteins build up into sticky clumps, disrupting nearby nerve cells. This damage leads to memory and thinking problems that we associate with dementia.

Prof Serpell and her team at the University of Sussex are aiming to find out what causes these initial changes in protein folding by looking at a combination of environmental, genetic, and age-related factors. And how these misfolded proteins go on to damage nerve cells.

In the lab they will investigate how a combination of genetic risk and oxidative stress influence amyloid misfolding and nerve cell damage. One gene in particular that is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s is APOE4, with people who inherit a copy of the gene are more likely to develop the disease later in life.

By looking at the initial steps in this sequence of events, this will provide important information for the development of new drugs. It may also help identify when the disease starts to develop to ensure people are giving treatments at an earlier stage.

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