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CVL Represented at Alzheimer’s Conference

Michelle Farrell, a graduate student at CVL, presented study findings to hundreds of Alzheimer’s researchers in Copenhagen, Denmark as part of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014.

During the Alzheimer’s Imaging Consortium track held on July 12, Farrell presented findings on amyloid deposition in early and middle adulthood, and whether genetics and life experiences might have an impact on amyloid deposits on the brain.

Using both PET scans, MRI scans, and genetic analysis of blood or saliva, Farrell found that deposits of amyloid – protein pieces that can clump together to form plaques that are associated with Alzheimer’s – could be detected as early as middle age.

Additionally, she found that the amount of amyloid was modified by both genetics and life experience. About 20 percent of the population carries an APOE-4 gene, which is associated with a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and high levels of amyloid. Farrell, however, showed that life experiences appeared to modify the impact of APOE-4. Carriers of APOE-4 who reported greater engagement in activities like reading, writing, and other intellectual activities in both youth and middle age showed lower deposits of amyloid than those who were less cognitively active. The engagement in these behaviors appeared to protect those at high genetic risk from depositing amyloid in both middle and old age.

“More research is needed, but these results hint at the possibility that you might be able to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by being more cognitively active when you’re young,” she said.

Farrell works with Dr. Denise Park who also attended the conference and presented other research on amyloid deposition. Also presenting a platform talk at the conference was Dr. Peiying Lie of UT Southwestern, who worked jointly with both Drs. Park and Hanzhang Liu, the chief neuroimaging scientist at the Advanced Imaging Research Center at UT Southwestern. Dr. Gerard Bischof, a coauthor on multiple presentations, also attended.

All of the presented work was part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study and was jointly funded by the NIH's National Institute on Aging and Avid Radiopharmaceutical, a Division of Eli Lilly.

Farrell is currently continuing her neuroimaging work looking into how personality, life experiences, and education can shape the health of the aging brain.