12 Mar Catalyzing new research in Alzheimer’s disease
When a project is moments away from completion, or a new question arises during the experiment, a little bit of extra funding can go a long way. This is the inspiration behind the ITHS Catalyst program. This pilot award is designed to provide investigators with “just-in-time” resources of up to $5,000. For Melissa Barker-Haliski, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy, the ITHS Catalyst Award provided her the funds needed to extend her experiment just long enough to collect data that better reflected the clinically-relevant time period she was hoping to study.
Dr. Barker-Haliski conducts preclinical research in the evaluation and characterization of investigational therapies for epilepsy in special patient populations, including elderly patients. While there are many antiseizure drugs on the market for epilepsy, little information is available to compare the effectiveness of these therapies with older populations. Furthermore, researchers are starting to see that seizures and epilepsy are frequently present among those with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Barker-Haliski’s research aims to better understand this relationship so that one can investigate how antiseizure medications could affect the health of the Alzheimer’s disease patient population.
Preclinical antiseizure drug development is predominately conducted in rodent seizure and epilepsy models. Dr. Barker-Haliski studies the impact of seizures on a mouse model of familial early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Human patients with familial early-onset Alzheimer’s disease begin to show neurodegenerative symptoms in mid-life (40- to 50-years-old). By extending her experiment a few months, Dr. Barker-Haliski was able to collect pilot data when the mice were of a physiological age that more closely reflects when symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are likely to be show up in humans.
“We know that people with Alzheimer’s are having these seizures, but we don’t know how it effects their outcomes” points out Dr. Barker-Haliski. With ITHS funds, she can take a closer look to engage this question by collecting essential data.
Without Catalyst funds, I would not have been able to age the animals to the time point that was most relevant to Alzheimer’s disease.
The experiment would have simply ended before the mice could reach that pivotal age. “This support has been very useful to the launch of my independent research.”
Dr. Barker-Haliski used this data to submit an application for further funding through the UW Royal Research Fund. Her newly-funded research will examine how chronic seizures in a similar cohort of mice with the Alzheimer’s disease-associated genetic mutation will impact cognition. She will demonstrate how chronic seizures affect the development of symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This data can then be compared to cognitive performance of age-matched mice who have not had chronic seizures. With an improved understanding of how seizures impact the evolution of Alzheimer’s disease, further study can be conducted on ways to treat the disease’s symptoms, and someday even slow its escalation.
The Catalyst award is intended to instigate new research directions and encourage further study in a given area. According to Dr. Barker-Haliski, this is precisely what has happened: “the initial ITHS funded project has been instrumental in furthering my work – I have been using this pilot data to submit grants left and right.” Working with ITHS has also enabled Dr. Barker-Haliski to deepen her capacity for collaboration with other departments on campus; by publishing this data, the research team can continue to pursue larger grants that will likely inform on the therapeutic management of seizures in Alzheimer’s disease.