Innovative Studies in Age-related Illnesses
CPMCRI Scientist Dr. Greg Tranah Receives New Funding to Continue Innovative Studies in Age-related Illnesses
January 15, 2014
Through a collaboration with the San Francisco Coordinating Center, CPMC’s Research Institute is home to the largest, richest data sets about aging in the U.S. Age-related neurodegenerative illnesses including dementia, and the physical decline associated with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are being explored to uncover new targets for earlier prevention and even treatment.
Dr. Greg Tranah, CPMCRI Scientist and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at UCSF is among a select group of researchers in the U.S. uncovering how alterations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) can lead to cognitive decline and dementia, and how mitochondrial genetic variation plays a much greater role than once believed in neurodegeneration and age-related brain illnesses.
Current therapies for Alzheimer’s disease target end-stage illness and most only partially mitigate memory loss. Dysfunction of mitochondria—the energy producing powerhouses of our cells—is a hallmark of many neurodegenerative illnesses and represents a growing area of research. Dr. Tranah’s findings point to new pathways early in the progression of disease that may represent novel targets for more powerful therapies.
“We are exploring inherited and acquired mitochondrial DNA mutations that predispose people to age-related cognitive decline, circulating markers of Alzheimer’s pathology, and dementia,” said Dr. Tranah. “These findings could revolutionize screening approaches to predict risk of dementia, and yield versatile, inexpensive tests to identify people who could benefit from existing pharmacologic and behavioral treatments that target mitochondria.”
“Additionally, identifying mitochondrial DNA variants associated with cognitive processes may yield new drugs or clinical strategies for maintaining neurologic function in the elderly.”
His research in this area was recently funded by the CPMC Foundation.
Other new funding was received from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, to support Dr. Tranah’s research into the effects of genetic variation on responsiveness to physical activity in the elderly. Age-related declines in cardiopulmonary function threaten the quality of life of many older adults. Dr. Tranah’s research in this area aims to test the impact of mtDNA sequence variation on walking speed, blood pressure and lung function in these individuals.
“Regularly engaging in physical activity provides an important modifiable behavior to improve the health of the elderly,” said Dr. Tranah. “However, a large heterogeneity exists in responsiveness to increased physical activity, and the explanation for this variability is unclear. Our study focuses on the role of mtDNA sequence variation in explaining the heterogeneity in cardiopulmonary responsiveness to regular physical activity. This direction could have a large impact in moving the field toward the National Institutes of Health’s goals of personalizing behavioral interventions.”