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Penn Medicine's Institute on Aging secured a $5 million grant to study new therapies for Alzheimer's and related dementias. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn Medicine’s Institute on Aging recently received a $5 million grant from the Delaware Community Foundation to study and create new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. 

Six million people in the United States currently live with Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, and Lewy body dementia. Individuals aged 65 years old or older are most often impacted by Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and this population is expected to grow substantially by 2035, according to a Penn Medicine press release.

With Alzheimer’s disease burdening people around the world and in the healthcare system, the $5 million grant will “support the development and translation of novel therapeutics and approaches for more effective targeting and enhanced efficacy of therapies that change how ADRD develops over time,” according to the release.

Penn’s Institute on Aging conducts clinical research to improve the health of the elderly by focusing on age related diseases. Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Edward Lee, a co-director of the Institute, said he was excited about the future of therapies geared towards combatting Alzheimer’s disease. 

“We are witnessing an extremely exciting time in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias because, for the first time ever, there are molecular therapies that target the underlying pathologies that cause Alzheimer’s disease,” Lee said. “We need to better understand how to implement these treatments in our patient populations by developing a personalized approach to deploying targeted therapies.”

Lee also emphasized that — while these new therapies are an improvement over past treatments — they do not represent cures for Alzheimer’s or related dementias.

“We need to start developing the next generation of targeted molecular therapies now,” Lee said. “This grant will fund multidisciplinary groups of scientists and physicians to develop novel molecular therapies including small molecule drugs, RNA therapeutics, cellular replacement modalities, and gene therapies.”

Neurology professor David Wolk, another co-director of the Institute, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the Delaware Community Foundation grant allows the Institute to provide large seed grants and additional support for the most promising research.

“This is such a dynamic time in Alzheimer’s disease research with promising therapeutics and new understandings of the biological mechanisms of disease that this flexibility allows us to direct funds in a much more targeted manner than most grants, which we believe will accelerate contributions from Penn faculty to advance the field,” Wolk said. 

Penn Medicine researchers are currently working toward a number of new therapies to slow down the development of Alzheimer’s. In January, the Penn Memory Center received Federal Drug Administration approval for its drug Leqembi, which aims to preemptively reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.