PET scan of the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease showing a loss of function in the temporal lobe. Photo by National Institute on Aging via Wikimedia Commons

An alliance of local research institutions announced Wednesday the National Institute on Aging has awarded it $7.46 million in federal grants to advance research to combat Alzheimer’s disease.

The funds are headed to Collaboration4Cure, an alliance of top research institutions brought together by San Diego County and Alzheimer’s San Diego. C4C grew out of the work of The Alzheimer’s Project, a regional effort to address a rise in local cases of dementia, the region’s third-leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease.

“These grants are a big vote of confidence in our hunt for a cure as we look to end the terrible toll that Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are taking on San Diego families,” said county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who spearheaded the creation of The Alzheimer’s Project in 2014. “I believe the research funded by the grants will bring us closer to the day when San Diego doctors can offer a treatment or cure.”

More than 84,000 San Diego County residents are living with Alzheimer’s, while more than 200,000 residents care for someone with the disease.

Philanthropist Darlene Shiley lost her husband, Donald, in 2010 to a series of strokes complicated by vascular dementia. Her mother and an aunt and uncle died from Alzheimer’s. In 2015, Shiley provided the seed money to start the research incubator and remains its lead donor. The county of San Diego has also provided funds.

“I believe the day is coming when a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she said. “The work underway at C4C brings us closer to that day. We have so many amazing researchers right here in San Diego, and their hard work, determination and passion give me great hope.”

A breakdown of the $7.46 million in federal grant money awarded includes:

— $1.73 million to study new small molecules that block the effects of a protein hormone whose release is triggered by stress and that studies have linked as a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s;

— $3.02 million to test hundreds of thousands of compounds and identify new ones that might provide the starting point for the development of safer and more effective drugs to control a protein which allows brain cells to communicate and is tied to neurodegenerative processes; and

— $2.71 million to identify how to modulate the activity of a protein believed to interfere with the brain’s ability to communicate and how that is tied to symptoms of cognitive and behavioral decline.

“But all the scientists and all the money in the world can only go so far — we need people to volunteer for these local research projects,” said Eugenia Welch, president and CEO of Alzheimer’s San Diego. “The first person to be cured of Alzheimer’s disease will be someone in a clinical trial, and I believe that person could right here in San Diego.”

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute on Torrey Pines Mesa has served as the research hub for C4C. Sanford Burnham Prebys researchers associated with C4C previously received a $1.27 million grant to study a gene, mutations of which are known to correlate with a significantly increased risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s.

–City News Service