Adventures in seeking an Alzheimer's cure

Neural photo illustration

Imagine you're talking about your favorite author, when suddenly you can't remember the word for "book." For nearly 47 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer's and other dementias, word problems like this are a common challenge. But it's a challenge that Iowa State researchers are combating through their groundbreaking protein research.

Iowa State assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, Auriel Willette, and graduate research assistant, Ashley Swanson, have identified the protein called neuronal pentraxin-2 (NPTX2). Their findings are helping predict the progression of memory loss and brain atrophy in Alzheimer's patients. Specifically, they found the importance of higher levels of NPTX2, a protein that helps the brain form new connections. "NPTX2 seems to exert a protective effect," Swanson said. "The more you have, the less brain atrophy and better memory you have over time."

Their research has also shown that people who keep their brain active with complex jobs or tasks have higher levels of the protein. Said Willette, "It makes sense that the more time spent intensely focused on learning, the more your brain is trained to process information. That intense kind of learning seems to make your brain stronger." With further exploration, this team's research could one day be used to help slow the progression of Alzheimer's.

At Iowa State, you'll have opportunities to learn from -- and work with -- professors who are conducting world-impacting research every day, from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease studies to bioenergy and soil enzyme experiments. So, if you're looking to change the world, look to Iowa State first.

Learn about other Cyclones and their adventures and nominate a Cyclone whose adventure story needs to be shared.