Dr. Charles Ouimet is working to short-circuit Alzheimer's and other neurological maladies whose occurrence is rapidly increasing in an aging population.
Professor and Faculty Scholar in Neuroscience,
College of Medicine
By the time a patient has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, millions of neurons-tree-like structures that allow the brain to communicate with the body-have died. Memory loss and dementia are inevitable.
Charles Ouimet, professor and faculty scholar in neuroscience in FSU's College of Medicine, is working to short-circuit Alzheimer's and other neurological maladies whose occurrence is rapidly increasing in an aging population. (The Alzheimer's Association predicts a 70% increase in the prevalence of the disease by 2030-from 4.5 million cases today to 7.7 million cases.)
"Our laboratory is working to understand the first steps in the development of the disease," Ouimet said. "We are looking for ways to prevent the disease from getting started in the first place."
This much researchers do know: BA4, a molecule that appears in elevated quantities in some people because of genetic risk factors and aging, also gathers in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and forms millions of tiny "plaques." Under magnification, these plaques look like the rounded patches of mold on cheese or bread. Ouimet's lab is exploring the hypothesis that plaques are essentially "toxic waste dumps" which can get inflamed and damage nerve cells, particularly their crucially important dendritic spines.
Such spines are like leaves on the neuron tree. The normal human brain has billions of dendritic spines, the sites on the neuron where the conversation of consciousness takes place and, scientists surmise, memory itself is stored.
Ouimet is convinced that such research could break new ground in the treatment of Alzheimer's and other debilitating neurological diseases. "If we can demonstrate that dendritic spine loss from plaque inflammation is an early step in the development of Alzheimer's disease, the stage will be set for creating drugs that prevent this from happening."
Ouimet's lab is also studying the recovery of the brain from the damage that may result from trauma or stroke. The laboratory is seeking to identify mechanisms by which neuronal connectivity may be restored after such insults.
—Taken from Research in Review Magazine, Fall 2003