Interdisciplinary science paves the way toward solving many of our most complex problems. And broadening our academic network yields some of the most significant advances in science (just look at the extensive list of authors in the best publications). This premise has been the bedrock in my research to tackle dementia by applying epidemiological data and lab-based experiments to treat this pressing healthcare need.

Dementia remains a daunting disease. Over 50 million people are affected worldwide. Despite focused research and development efforts, uncovering ways to treat, prevent, and cure forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s have remained elusive. By extension, drug development for dementia has been dry. In combining the resources at Cambridge Public Health and the Department of Chemistry, we are bringing molecular research from the computer to the test tube. Firstly, data has been collected on cognitive function and medication usage for many decades from the overall population. After accounting for certain variables, these data can hint at trends in those who took a specific drug showing signs for either an increased or decreased incidence of dementia. This is mainly recorded through cognitive test scores, psychiatric diagnostic assessments, post-mortem consensus diagnoses, and death certificates. Secondly, upon identifying a potential drug, the research moves to the benchtop to study its interactions with the proteins related to dementia. These experiments range from in vitro using protein in test tubes to in vivo work on worms. For example, some drugs have been shown to attenuate the progression of the assumed cause of Alzheimer’s disease in protein aggregation. Understanding the way these drugs interact with specific proteins on the microscale in the brain aims to shine a light on possible drug repurposing models for patients. This combined public health and biophysical focus is proving necessary in the fight for repurposing drugs to treat dementia in the future.

Ryan Geiser

NanoDTC Associate, a2020