ReSource, Volume 13, 2001 Page: 18
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Scans comparing electri-
cal activity in the brains
of (top) a normal adult,
(middle) an Alzheimer's
patient and (bottom) a
newborn baby reveal
the effects of Alzheimer's
disease. Dark areas
indicate that no activity
omen appear to be two to
three timrnes more likely than
men to develop Alzheimer's, says
James Simpkins, Ph.D., chair of the
Department of Pharmacology and
Neuroscience and director oi the
Institute for Aging and Alzheimer's
Disease Research at the UNT Health
'The fact that women tend to outlive
men makes women more likely to
reach the age at which the risk of
getting AD increases dramatically.
But Simpkins believes another factor
is at play: estrogen reduction during
"Being post-menopausal and not on
estrogen replacement is a risk fac-
tor," he says.
A study being conducted at the
lHealth Science Center is examining
more about the
AD. James Simp-
chair of the
director of the
at the Health
says there are
tory - a first-
(a parent or sib-
the estrogen-A zheii'eri s iink. A
team led by Janice Knebl, D.O.,
chief of geriatrics and director of the
Gerontology Assesment and Plan-
ning Programi, is evaluating the
effectiveness of hormone replacement
therapy coupled with the drug
donepezil hydrochloride, which helps
conserve the brain's neurotransmis-
sion chemical, acetylcholine.
It's an area that has engaged Simp-
kins for more than 15 years. In tests,
he says, estrogens have reduced the
deposition in the brain of beta
amyloid, a cause of senile plaques
commonly found in Alzheimer's
patients. Estrogens also appear
to stabilize microtubules, which
Simpkins describes as small canals
that run LIp and down the nerve cells
and transport materials to the cells.
ling) who has the disease - puts you in a
high-risk group," he says. "Being female is a
risk factor. Women are two to three times as
likely to have AD as men. We believe that's
because of the estrogen reduction during
menopause. Low educational attainment is a
risk factor, as is a history of head injuries
that have resulted in loss of consciousness.
Having had a stroke is a risk factor. And an
obvious, major risk factor is age."
Without question, the likelihood of con-
tracting AD rises dramatically as a person
ages. The increase in average life expect-
ancy over the past century from 48 to 76
years has brought with it a marked rise in
the number of cases of Alzheimer's, a dis-
ease that strikes most frequently between
the ages of 65 and 75.
Research is under way at the Health Sci-
ence Center that uses protein biological
markers (biomarkers) in the blood to identify
people who are at risk for developing the
The canals become twisted and tan-
gled in Alzheimer's patients, and
estrogens appear to maintain the
function of these canals.
"If you take estrogens away from
a woman or animal," Simpkins says,
"the brain doesn't seem to do as
well. Therefore, loss of estrogens
at menopause is having some funda-
mental effect on the ability of the
brain to age well."
"The clinical evidence is that if
you're on estrogen replacement
therapy, you have about a 50 percent
lower incidence of AD," Simpkins
says. "That's been seen again and
again in epidemiological studies that
look back and ask who got the dis-
ease and what is interesting about
their life related to getting or not
getting the disease."
disease. The goal of this research is to
develop a test that can provide a diagnosis
for Alzheimer's before symptoms appear. An
accurate, early diagnosis gives affected indi-
viduals a greater chance of benefiting from
"One such marker," says Robert W.
Gracy, Ph.D., Alzheimer's researcher and
associate vice president for research and
biotechnology at the Health Science Cen-
ter, "is damaged proteins that show up in
blood due to oxidative damage to cells in
As a consumer of a full fifth of the
oxygen we take in, the brain is exposed
to potentially toxic oxygen free radicals,
which contribute to the production of the
toxic proteins that can kill brain cells,
Gracy explains. Our body makes antioxi-
dants to combat the oxygen free radicals,
and we obtain some in our diet. Research
at the Health Science Center is aimed at
understanding why the body's defenses
against oxidative damage appear to dimin-
Tc goal, he says, is to design
therapies that take advantage of
estrogen's apparent positive effects
on Alzheimer's while minimizing
potential negative effects. Hie says
compounds are being produced con-
taining estrogen that may protect
nerve cells without the risk of cancer
associated with the use of estrogen.
In ongoing prevention trials at the
Health Science Center, women who
appear to be cognitively normal but
have risk factors for developing
Alzheimer's are being studied.
"If you put part of the group on
estrogens," Simpkins says, "is there
a difference in the incidence of AD
after four or five years? We're trying
to determine if a compound or
behavior can prevent a disease from
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University of North Texas. ReSource, Volume 13, 2001, periodical, 2001; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc29774/m1/18/: accessed August 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting University Relations, Communications & Marketing department for UNT.