LOWELL - University of Massachusetts Lowell Professor Garth Hall has spent the better part of 20 years studying Alzheimer's disease on the cellular level using sea lampreys. While other Alzheimer's research has gotten more attention, Hall persisted in believing that the need for the eel-like predators would come.
With a $1 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and collaboration with a company to test drug interactions, Hall is hoping that his lamprey research conducted at UMass Lowell will be put on the map.
"These are long-term experiments on a single cell level and are very unique," says Hall, a Sudbury resident, of the NIA research.
Through Hall's research, it is becoming clear that the way tau, a normal protein, develops in Alzheimer's patients is key to isolating the problem. In Alzheimer's patients, tau develops abnormally displaying neurofibrillary tangles or filaments. The theory is that these filaments are what cause degeneration. The live lamprey experiments are the first to get tau filaments to develop, which has wide-reaching research possibilities.
According to the "Journal of Cell Science," describing Hall's cover article, the question of "whether neurofibrillary tangles are a cause or consequence of neurodegeneration has remained unclear because of the absence of a cellular model in which they can be generated." Hall's research will help uncover the answer.
Once the filaments have developed, Hall hopes the NIA research results will further prove the development of the tau filaments and their relationship to Alzheimer's disease by looking at the interaction between tau and another protein and trying to replicate the degeneration using mutative diseases other than Alzheimer's. The research will be conducted over the next four years.
Hall, an associate professor in biology at UMass Lowell, is also collaborating with Dr. Lester Beinder, a renowned cellular researcher, and his Chicago-based company, NeuroNautics, Inc. Hall will be testing whether drugs can block tau filament formation.
UMass Lowell, a comprehensive university with special expertise in applied science and technology, is deeply committed to educating students for lifelong success and conducting research and outreach activities that bring value to the region. Second largest of the UMass campuses, Lowell currently offers its more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students 90 different degree programs in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Health Professions, and Management, as well as the Graduate School of Education.