Despite decades of intensive research, the primary causes of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) remain unclear, which has hindered the development of effective diagnostics and treatments. To meet this challenge, internationally renowned neuroscientist Prof Nancy Ip is leading her team towards identifying better diagnostic markers and developing innovative therapies for aging-related neurodegenerative diseases. As the most common form of dementia which disrupts the lives of 50 million people worldwide, there is currently no effective disease-modifying therapy, and existing treatments only provide modest symptomatic relief. While AD is often associated with aging and memory loss, its effects are far reaching. It also causes cognitive ability and behavioral skills to progressively decline, continuously diminishing patients’ ability to take care of themselves. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 10 million new cases of AD are diagnosed every year. Given that the global population is aging, the prevalence of AD is expected to increase even faster.
Prof Ip’s work aims to identify and understand genes, proteins, and pathways involved in AD that could be targeted as part of treatments. She currently focuses on identifying genetic factors associated with AD, and understanding how they contribute to this age-related disease. Despite the global prevalence of AD and immense attention in the field of neuroscience, existing studies on AD have mainly focused on Caucasians. Because genetic risk factors might differ among different ethnic populations, it is critical that studies of risk factors include non-Caucasian populations. In this regard, Prof Ip and her team have been studying the genetics of AD in the Chinese population and have successfully identified multiple genetic factors that contribute to the disease. Their studies have uncovered pathways, specifically immune pathways, which are associated with AD.
Besides genetic factors, Prof Ip and her team are also studying specific protein pathways that potentially affect synapses, where the defects in neuronal communication in AD occur. Upon aging, these pathways might hinder neuronal communication, consequently affecting brain functions. By using genome-editing tools, Prof Ip and her team aim to demonstrate whether these pathways are indeed involved in AD and whether certain phenotypes can be rescued during neurodegeneration. Prof Ip’s team also continues to search for biomarkers of aging and age-related diseases in order to develop biomarker panels for accurate diagnosis. By taking a multifaceted approach to studying these diseases, their tireless research is steadily advancing towards the development of effective treatments for these diseases.