Project Critical to Exploring Why More Women than Men Are Living with the Disease
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Gender matters when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, and Karyn Frick, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is investigating the differences in a study funded by the Sex and Gender in Alzheimer’s (SAGA) research grant awards program of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The decline of estrogen and progesterone during menopause is a major cause of memory loss in women and contributes to the fact that almost two-thirds of American’s with Alzheimer’s are women. Frick is leading a study that will examine the effects of estrogen, gender and a variant of the gene for the molecule apolipoprotein E (APOE4). For women without the genotype, hormone replacement therapy during the early stages of menopause is protective of memory. But for women with APOE4, estrogen therapy has the opposite effect.
The study aims to identify how APOE4 interacts with estrogen treatment to regulate memory and brain function in a mouse model of Alzheimer’ disease. Frick also is interested in understanding why APOE4 leads to greater memory loss and brain pathology in females than in males.
“I am proud to be have been awarded one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s first-ever research grants on the effects of sex and gender in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Frick. “Understanding the role of APOE4 in both dementia risk and the response to hormone therapy could provide sorely needed new drug development targets for the treatment of the disease.”
Her work has been instrumental in charting how estrogen acts on a brain region called the hippocampus, which deteriorates with advanced age and in Alzheimer’s disease. The hormone is also important for aging men because many of the effects of testosterone on memory are due to its conversion to estrogen.
“We are excited to support the very important work being done by Dr. Frick and her colleagues, which is making a significant contribution to the field,” said Tom Hlavacek, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Almost two-thirds of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. Among Americans age 71 and older, 16 percent of women have Alzheimer’s or dementia compared with 11 percent of men, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures
The first-ever Alzheimer’s Association SAGA research grants support nine projects, including the initiative at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, totaling $2.2 million. It is the only active, multi-project, research funding effort focused on filling previously identified knowledge gaps related to potential sex differences in Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research in the world, having awarded over $375 million in more than 2,400 scientific investigations since 1982. The Alzheimer’s Association awards as much research as possible each year and is currently investing more than $90 million in over 350 active projects in 18 countries.
About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s research, care and support. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. For more information, visit alz.org or call 800-272-3900.
Recognized as one of the nation’s 115 top research universities, UW-Milwaukee provides a world-class education to more than 27,000 students from 81 countries. Its 14 schools and colleges include Wisconsin’s only schools of architecture, freshwater sciences and public health, and it is a leading educator of nurses and teachers. With a budget of $667 million, UW-Milwaukee partners with leading companies to conduct joint research, offer student internships and serve as an economic engine for southeastern Wisconsin. The Princeton Review named UW-Milwaukee a 2016 “Best Midwestern” university based on overall academic excellence and student reviews.