Spring 2020

From Big Data to Precision Treatments for Alzheimer’s

A new research project at the University of Arizona Center for Innovation in Brain Science will apply ‌a big-data approach, using bioinformatics and computational modeling to better understand the systems biology of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Rui Chang

The research will seek to identify patient-specific therapeutic targets and evaluate the effectiveness and safety of drug combinations to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Principal investigator Rui Chang, center member and an associate professor in the Department of Neurology in the College of Medicine – Tucson, has been awarded a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health that will allow his team to leverage big data to attempt to close the gap on cognitive decline and healthy aging.

The two-year project will screen for small molecules and repurpose Food and Drug Administration-approved investigational and experimental drugs and drug combinations for Alzheimer’s disease. It will employ big
data to capture the complexity of neurodegenerative diseases, which are driven by an array of factors including genetics, aging, gender, environment and disease stage.

“We’re able to go from patients to the single-cell level and use predictive models to integrate data that — thanks to this grant — now allows us to identify and validate key therapeutics in a cell-type-specific way across the spectrum of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases,” Chang says.

The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects 44 million people worldwide, a number expected to increase to 75 million by 2030. Today, no cure exists for Alzheimer’s or any other neurodegenerative disease.

“Dr. Chang’s work is critical to our quest to cure Alzheimer’s disease,” says Roberta Diaz Brinton, director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science. “His research is leading to a much deeper understanding of the complex biological networks involved in Alzheimer’s disease, which ultimately will form the foundation of precision medicine to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s.”