Irvine, Calif., Sept. 21, 2022 — What began with a $70,000 philanthropic gift 12 years ago has grown into the recipient of a $47 million National Institute on Aging grant for Alzheimer’s disease research at the University of California, Irvine. The funds will be parceled out over five years to a UCI team developing the next generation of mouse models for studying late-onset Alzheimer’s. By inserting human genetic data into the models, researchers can better understand the biology that leads to Alzheimer’s and set the stage for preclinical drug testing.
“This grant – and one preceding it for $16 million – shows how philanthropic donations can play a crucial role in seeding breakthrough ideas and growing them into research that attracts major extramural funding and yields important scientific discoveries,” said Pramod Khargonekar, UCI vice chancellor for research.
The award also “reflects UCI’s expertise and leadership in the national Alzheimer’s disease research ecosystem,” said Joshua Grill, director of UCI’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders. “Our investigators are part of many of the most important initiatives in the field, from animal models to observational patient-oriented research to clinical trials of promising treatments.”
UCI houses one of just two U.S. groups working on late-onset Alzheimer’s mouse models, formally known as MODEL-AD. (The other effort is a collaboration of Indiana University, the Jackson Laboratory in Maine and the University of Pittsburgh.)
The UCI program’s genesis was a $70,000 gift from the Pacific Life Foundation at the urging of Harry Bubb, a former CEO of Pacific Life Insurance Co. In 2016, the researchers won their first five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging. The new grant nearly triples that funding and extends the complicated research’s timeline.
In contrast with previous mouse models, which mimic early-onset Alzheimer’s, a condition that affects fewer than 5 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, the UCI model is based on the most common form of the disease. The initial phase of the model was created in April 2021.
The project’s next phase will be co-directed by Frank LaFerla, dean of the School of Biological Sciences; Andrea Tenner, a Distinguished Professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, as well as a professor of pathology and of neurobiology and behavior; and Kim Green, a professor of neurobiology and behavior.
LaFerla and his colleagues have long been at the forefront of using genetically modified mice to study neurodegenerative diseases. In 2003, LaFerla created the first mouse model to accumulate beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which are believed to be the pathological agents of Alzheimer’s disease. And, in 2010, his team developed the first mouse model for the Lewy body variant of Alzheimer’s.
Under the new grant, team investigators include Arthur Lander, Grant MacGregor, Ali Mortazavi, Ian Smith, Craig Stark, Vivek Swarup, Katrine Whiteson and Marcelo Wood from the School of Biological Sciences; and Mark Mapstone, Andre Obenaus and Xiangmin Xu from the School of Medicine.
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the nation’s top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report. The campus has produced five Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.
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