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Reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease

Queen’s University researcher Christopher Bowie (Psychology) is one of the lead investigators of a new $10 million project funded by the Chagnon Family and Ontario Brain Institute to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. Co-led by his colleagues Drs. Benoit Mulsant and Tarek Rajji at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, where Dr. Bowie has a research appointment, the study is the largest ever funded focusing on Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team will study whether combining brain stimulation treatments delays or prevents the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Bowie is combining his cognitive remediation treatment with a process to stimulate the firing of neurons in the prefrontal cortex called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS).

Queen's researcher Christopher Bowie is working on a method to prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

“This type of remediation enhances the area of the brain responsible for planning, organization and multi-tasking,” says Dr. Bowie. “Right now there is no effective treatments to slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which is often associated with early deterioration of function in the temporal lobes. Our novel approach is to enhance the connectivity in frontal lobes to improve their functioning. We think this will compensate for deterioration in other brain regions and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Two groups of people known to be at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease will be included in the study: 250 older adults with clinical depression who have been successfully treated with antidepressants, and 125 people with mild cognitive impairment.

The treatments currently available for Alzheimer’s dementia are usually initiated when the patient is diagnosed, at which point the brain is already damaged. By using tDCS to enhance the effects of cognitive remediation, the goal is to improve cognition and then prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia by stimulating neurons in the regions of the brain critical for critical executive functioning skills such as problem solving.

“The project, which has initial funding for five years, will be a success if we can demonstrate a reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease or stop cognitive decline in people who do develop Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Bowie. “With a diverse team of experts studying genetic, blood-based, and other biomarkers, the study will also provide a wealth of data about risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”

For more information on the study, read the announcement on the CAMH website.