Center for Cognitive Neurology Research | NYU Langone Health

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Center for Cognitive Neurology Center for Cognitive Neurology Research

Center for Cognitive Neurology Research

Research and discovery have always been at the heart of our mission. In recent years, we have accelerated our research efforts at the Center for Cognitive Neurology, and we continue to be recognized globally as a pioneer in the field.

We are devoted to three research areas: basic, translational, and clinical research. We also have a Brain Donation Program that allows researchers to study the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in order to improve treatment and care for people living with these conditions.

Research Achievements

Research firsts achieved by our team receive national and international attention. Some of these include the following.

Clinical Assessment and Treatment

Clinical trials spearheaded by the Center for Cognitive Neurology led to approval of memantine (Namenda®) for Alzheimer’s disease treatment. We also have conducted landmark studies establishing the effectiveness of psychosocial support for patients and families.

Early Diagnosis

Our group has developed highly sensitive brain imaging techniques and memory tests that recognize and validate a stage of mild cognitive impairment that may predict the development of Alzheimer’s disease. We have also established novel approaches for imaging brain structure, metabolism, and electrical activity that combine with specific biomarkers for reliable early detection and prediction of Alzheimer’s disease in people at risk.

Genetic and Molecular Causes

We have identified a gene mutation that links Alzheimer’s disease to vascular forms of dementia, as well as a second mutation that causes a novel familial form of dementia. We also characterized mechanisms by which a common genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease promotes earlier disease onset and established the link between the gene causing Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down syndrome and pathological changes in the brain appearing years before Alzheimer’s disease develops. Our researchers pioneered methods to isolate amyloid and discovered a novel amyloid-generating pathway in the brain.

Drug Discovery

Our team has developed novel immunomodulatory methods to target both amyloid and tau pathology in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as prion disease. We were the first to develop a vaccine to prevent prion disease in animals naturally at risk for prion infection. Recently, we discovered a novel strategy that targets abnormal β-sheet conformation in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

Basic Science Research

In our basic science research programs, we use our strengths in molecular neurobiology and neuroscience to decipher the underlying mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and related disorders. It’s our hope to translate our findings into effective treatments.

A major scientific focus is the origin and significance of toxic amyloids and related products that build up in the brain and are widely believed to initiate Alzheimer’s disease. Insights into the genetics and biochemistry of amyloid proteins uncovered in studies at NYU Langone have helped lay the groundwork for new anti-amyloid vaccine therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

Recent research is now zeroing in on a more comprehensive understanding of the function of the amyloid precursor protein (APP). The suspected function of APP in the synapses that control communications between neurons and underlie memory has sharpened the focus of our research on synapse biology and electrophysiology.

We also recently discovered defects in the way neurons shuttle APP and other proteins to different internal destinations. This has not only revealed novel pathways for amyloid generation but also yielded key insights into why neurons die in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other devastating neurodegenerative diseases. Future investigations of these cellular pathways and interrelated processes involving growth factors that promote survival of aging on disease neurons will focus on the delivery of innovative therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Translational Research

Our translational research combines basic science and clinical expertise to help us develop new diagnostic tools and therapeutic strategies. Brain imaging is among the most promising tools for sensitively and noninvasively detecting pathologic processes and aiding the differential diagnosis of dementing diseases. NYU Langone investigators were among the first to apply neuroimaging to Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. We are now forging new paths toward earlier diagnosis by mapping structural and metabolic brain changes using both PET and MRI technologies to distinguish mild cognitive impairment (MCI) from normal aging.

Coupling neuroimaging with measurements of disease biomarkers, and adding sensitive psychometric techniques for detecting early cognitive decline, is making early diagnosis even more precise. This work puts the goal of identifying people who are at risk for cognitive decline but who are still clinically healthy within reach.

Genomics, a technology that allows for the expression of hundreds of genes to be studied within a single diseased brain or blood cell from a patient with dementia, is providing exciting clues to the underlying causes of dementing disorders and will soon help guide drug discovery. Similar technologies are being developed at NYU Langone to assess microRNAs, minute forms of RNA molecules that control genes, some of which are linked to neurodegenerative disorders. Animal modeling of dementing diseases is a key area of our focus in translational science and is increasingly used to assess therapeutic approaches to prevent or reverse the disease process. Our investigators have created mouse models that replicate the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. Our past studies using translational models have identified cholesterol-lowering drugs as potential Alzheimer’s disease therapies, and these are now undergoing clinical trials.

Clinical Research

Our goal is to progress from preclinical drug discovery into early clinical trials, increasing the number of potential treatments in the pipeline and providing patients with novel therapies faster and more efficiently. For example, translational research studies have uncovered ways to remove amyloid from the human brain. We are now testing these anti-amyloid therapeutic strategies to confirm their disease-modifying effects. We plan to expand and streamline our capability to conduct phase I trials of innovative drugs that arise from our translational research findings.

Center for Cognitive Neurology investigators have contributed directly to the clinical development of all currently approved treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, particularly memantine, the first in a novel class of Alzheimer’s disease medications that block overactive brain receptors. Landmark longitudinal research on the course of Alzheimer’s disease led to recognition of MCI as an early stage of the disease and a target for early treatment, which is a major focus of our research.

Our pioneering research on psychosocial interventions provides an evidence base for the value of counseling and support for caregivers to reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on both family members and patients. Trials are underway to address the behavioral deficits of dementia, which are often the cause of management issues and caregiver stress.

As a member of a consortium of designated Alzheimer’s Disease Centers of the National Institutes of Health and of the Parkinson’s Foundation, our center provides clinical resources to its investigators to speed up development of more effective treatment and psychosocial management strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Brain Donation Program

Brain donation at the time of death is the most important and generous gift that a patient with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder can give. Examining brain tissue is the only method by which a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia can be made. The results offer family members information they may use when planning their own futures. Studying brain tissue also provides scientists with valuable information in their quest to unravel the mysteries of these disorders, giving them the opportunity to improve treatment and ultimately to find a cure.

Making a brain donation is a selfless act of caring, compassion, and hope. Your gift is one that researchers value deeply. Please consider becoming a brain tissue donor and discuss this possibility with your family.

Please be advised that your donor information will be kept confidential. If you would like more information or have any questions about our program, please contact Lynne Leung, brain donation coordinator, at 212-263-5108 or lynne.leung@nyulangone.org.

Current Graduate Students Interested in Brain Aging Specialization

Graduate students who are interested in conducting brain aging research are required to select a thesis advisor and do lab rotations. Please consult your school’s program policies and requirements for more information about choosing a lab.