PHILADELPHIA—Building upon the expertise in dementia research and care across Penn Medicine, the health system has been awarded a $5 million grant from the Delaware Community Foundation to support the Penn Institute on Aging’s (IOA) work to develop the next generation of therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). Led by David Wolk, MD, and Edward Lee, MD, PhD, the IOA will collaborate with teams who have identified and validated potential therapeutic targets to translate basic science research into treatments that address the root causes of ADRD.
Specifically, the funds will support development and translation of novel therapeutics and approaches for more effective targeting and enhanced efficacy of therapies that change how ADRD develops over time. Funds will also support expansion of tissue and biofluid repositories, DNA sequencing, and biomarker testing, facilitating discovery and testing of potential targets for new therapies.
“Newly approved Alzheimer’s drugs are an exciting development for patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, as they can slow the development of debilitating symptoms, like memory loss and impairment of judgement. But these drugs don’t prevent the disease from developing in the first place,” said Wolk, a professor of Neurology, and co-director of the Penn Memory Center. “It is our hope that the collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians at Penn Medicine will build on the already groundbreaking research on dementia and help us develop treatments that can one day stop the disease in its tracks.”
There is an estimated 6 million Americans currently living with an ADRD, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), and Lewy Body dementia. These dementias cause devastating symptoms, such as memory loss and impairment of language, vision, judgement, and emotional control. These symptoms profoundly impact the lives of patients and their loved ones. The vast majority of individuals who develop an ADRD are age 65 or older, a population that is estimated to grow to 78 million in the United States by 2035.
“This demographic shift represents a major challenge to health systems as they prepare to care for a massive increase in the number of patients with dementia. However, it also represents a huge opportunity to drive research now that addresses the future’s greatest challenges,” said Wolk. “Penn Medicine is already a leader in diagnosing and treating dementia, and has supported foundational research that helped us understand its underlying mechanisms. Now we have the opportunity to develop the next generation of dementia treatments, so we are prepared to care for these patients when they need us.”
Groundbreaking research at Penn Medicine led by Virginia M.Y. Lee, PhD, the John H. Ware III Professor in Alzheimer’s Research in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and the late John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, a former professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, pioneered three historic scientific discoveries in the field of neuroscience and neurodegenerative diseases: the demonstration that tau is the major constituent of neurofibrillary tangles in AD, the discovery that Lewy bodies are comprised of alpha-synuclein, and the discovery that inclusions in FTLD and ALS are made of TDP-43 protein.
“Normal aging and specific neurodegenerative conditions have often been studied in isolation, but as Lee and Trojanowski’s research shows, many neurodegenerative diseases share similar pathology and biomarkers,” said Edward Lee, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and co-director of the IOA. “Here at Penn, ADRD researchers are able to collaborate across disciplines to study these conditions together rather than in insolation, and unveil common mechanisms, such as their links to the biology of aging, which can accelerate development of therapies for these conditions.”
This grant is supported by the Paul H. Boerger Fund of the Delaware Community Foundation.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.
The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.