Researchers use chimpanzees to find Alzheimer’s treatment

GW researchers partnered with four universities to look at the presence of Alzheimer’s in chimpanzees to develop better treatment for the disease.

Researchers found extensive evidence that the brains of aged chimpanzees are similar to the brains of humans with Alzheimer’s disease, and can potentially use this information to develop therapeutic interventions for humans. The study was published in Neurobiology of Aging Tuesday.

Mary Ann Raghanti, senior author on the study and an associate professor of anthropology at Kent State University, said that very few studies have looked at Alzheimer’s disease in chimpanzees, an animal that is the closest genetically related species to humans.

“Brain samples from great apes, particularly aged individuals, are incredibly scarce, so a study of this size is rare,” Raghanti said in a release.

The research began in 2013, when the team first looked at brain samples of chimpanzees in a lab at Kent State University.

The team specifically looked at regions of the chimpanzee brain that were most affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Of the 20 chimpanzee samples surveyed, they found increasingly larger amounts of amyloid beta plaques, a type of toxic protein buildup, and blood vessels in the brain with greater age.

Alzheimer’s affects approximately one-third of adults over the age of 65 in the U.S., according to the release. Researchers on the study said that these results show the value and need for continued studies with chimpanzees.

The partnering schools included Kent State University, Barrow Neurological Institute, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Georgia State University. The Yerkes National Primate Research Center also participated in the research process.

Joseph Erwin, a research professor of anthropology at GW who worked on the study, said that chimpanzees are the ideal species for comparisons due to their genetic similarities to humans. Many chimpanzees in human captivity are also reaching ages where Alzheimer’s is common for humans, he added.

“We initiated the Great Ape Aging Project 20 years ago because we saw an aging chimpanzee population under human care that would need geriatric attention for disorders similar to those affecting aging humans,” Erwin said.

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