Important Findings for Alzheimer’s Patients

Faculty News Research News
By Alice Pareti

AMES, Iowa ( August 20, 2020) – Food Science and Human Nutrition assistant professor Dr. Auriel Willette and his team recently had a paper accepted for publication in one of Alzheimer’s & Dementia’s open-access sister journals, Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

The paper, “CSF glucose tracks regional tau progression based on Alzheimer’s disease risk factors,” looks at tau, a key toxic protein that builds in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. 

As tau builds up and spreads throughout the brain in a very specific pattern, the worse cognition gets. One reason for this build-up is the inability of the brain to use fuel (i.e., glucose) to stop tau. However, it was not known if and how brain fuel levels could track tau build-up.

Willette and his team analyzed brain imaging and data in several hundred people in their mid-70’s with or without Alzheimer’s. They found that the less brain fuel a person had, the more tau build-up there was. Interestingly, less brain fuel tracked tau’s very specific pattern of spread and build up based on known Alzheimer’s risk factors (being a woman, genetic risk, levels of other toxic proteins).

These finding are important for a few reasons. Their data suggests that brain fuel levels could give clinicians and researchers a clue about how much tau is in the brain and where. This information could be used as an alternative to traditional tau scans.

“Our research has the potential to save people money,” said Willette. “Tau scans cost $5,000 – $10,000 and typically are not reimbursed through insurance.” 

Additionally, increasing brain fuel or making it easy to burn could be something to target or track in future clinical trials.

By Alice Pareti