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Alzheimer’s patients perceive pain differently, new study finds



Alzheimer’s disease patients may not feel pain in the same way as other people, a new study has suggested.

The research from King’s College London says this is due to the lack of a protein called TLR4 in the central nervous system.

The team behind the investigation said the finding could open the way to better pain management strategies, potentially improving the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

While chronic musculoskeletal pain is common in individuals with Alzheimer’s, it remains largely untreated as it can go unreported due to the cognitive deficits attached to the disease.

But in this study, a team from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, sought to explore whether there is also an alteration in the body’s response to pain by the nervous system in people with Alzheimer’s.

Using a mouse model mimicking Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers found that unlike in healthy mice, pain signals are not passed on in the same way. In healthy mice, they are transmitted from the point of origin to the central nervous system to initiate an immune response.

This is brought about by a carbohydrate binding protein called Galectin-3 which is responsible for relaying pain signals to the spinal cord.

There it binds with the TLR4 protein to initiate the immune response.

Professor Marzia Malcangio

In this study, the researchers gave the Alzheimer’s disease mice rheumatoid arthritis, a type of chronic inflammatory disease, through blood transfer.

They observed an increase in allodynia – defined as pain caused by a stimulus that doesn’t normally provoke discomfort – as a response to the inflammation. They also found an increased activation of a microglia – resident immune cells – in the spinal cord.

The researchers determined that these effects were regulated by TLR4.

The team found that the mice with Alzheimer’s disease lacked TLR4 in the immune cells of their central nervous system and were therefore unable to respond to pain in the typical way as the signals were not being perceived.

This resulted in the mice with Alzheimer’s developing less joint inflammation related soreness, and a less powerful immune cell response to the pain signals received by the central nervous system.

Marzia Malcangio, professor of meuropharmacology at King’s IoPPN and the study’s senior author, said, “Nociceptive pain – pain which is the result of tissue damage – is the second most prevalent comorbidity in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our study has shown that, in mice with Alzheimer’s, the body’s ability to process that pain is altered due to the lack of TLR4; a protein vital to the immune response process in the central nervous system.

“These are important findings, as untreated pain can contribute to the psychiatric symptoms of the disease. Increasing our understanding of this area could, with more research, lead to more effective treatments and ultimately improve people’s quality of life.”

George Sideris-Lampretsas, a PhD student at King’s IoPPN and the study’s first author, added: “The results of this study have the potential to make an impact, not only by identifying Galectin-3/TLR4 as a potential therapeutic target for chronic pain, but most importantly by raising awareness around the underreported and untreated pain experienced by patients with AD.”

The study, published in the open access journal Nature Communications, was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement.


Tai chi outperforms conventional exercise for seniors



New findings from 12 studies involving 2,901 participants have demonstrated that tai chi outperforms conventional exercise in improving mobility and balance in seniors.

While tai chi is understood to be beneficial for functional mobility and balance in older adults, such benefits are not well understood due to large variance in research study protocols and observations.

This new review and analysis has now shown that tai chi can induce greater improvement in functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults compared to conventional exercise.

The findings showed the following performance results:

  • The time to complete 50-foot walking was 1.84 seconds faster. 
  • The time to maintain a one-leg stance was 6 seconds longer when eyes were open and 1.65 seconds longer when eyes were closed. 
  • Individuals improved their timed-up-and-go test performance by 0.18 points, indicating quicker standing, walking, and sitting.
  • Individuals taking the functional reach test showed significant improvement with a standardised mean difference of 0.7, suggesting a noteworthy positive impact on the ability to reach and perform daily activities.

Secondary analyses revealed that the use of tai chi with relatively short duration of less than 20 weeks, low total time of less than 24 total hours, and/or focusing on the Yang-style of this ancient form of Chinese martial arts were particularly beneficial for functional mobility and balance as compared to conventional exercise.

“This systematic literature review and meta-analysis are exciting because they provide strong evidence that tai chi is a more efficient strategy to improve functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults, as compared to conventional exercise,” said Brad Manor, Ph.D., director of the Mobility and Falls Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This research suggests that tai chi should be carefully considered in future studies and routines of rehabilitative programs for balance and mobility in older adults,” said Bao Dapeng, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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New standards for biomarkers of ageing



A paper has put forward a new framework for standardising the development and validation of biomarkers of ageing to better predict longevity and quality of life.

Led by Harvard researchers, the team has zeroed in on biomarkers of ageing using omic data from population-based studies. 

The team included ageing and longevity expert Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of AI-driven drug discovery company Insilico Medicine, and the findings appeared in Nature Medicine

Ageing is associated with a number of biological changes including increased molecular and cellular damage, however, researchers do not yet have a standardised means to evaluate and validate biomarkers related to ageing. 

In order to create those standards as well as actionable clinical tools, the team analysed population-based cohort studies built on omic data (data related to biological molecules which can include proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, and epigenomics) of blood-based biomarkers of ageing. The researchers then compared the predictive strength of different biomarkers, including study design and data collection approaches, and looked at how these biomarkers presented in different populations. 

In order to better assess the impact of ageing using biomarkers, the researchers found that clinicians needed to expand their focus to consider not only mortality as an outcome, but also how biomarkers of aging are associated with numerous other health outcomes, including functional decline, frailty, chronic disease, and disability. They also call for the standardisation of omic data to improve reliability. 

“Omics and biomarkers harmonisation efforts, such as the Biolearn project, are instrumental in validation of biomarkers of aging” said co-first author Mahdi Moqri, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

Biolearn is an open-source project for biomarkers of aging and is helping to harmonise existing ageing biomarkers, unify public datasets, and provide computational methodologies.

The team also emphasised the importance of continued collaborations among research groups on “large-scale, longitudinal studies that can track long-term physiological changes and responses to therapeutics in diverse populations”, and that further work is required to understand how implementation of biomarker evaluation in clinical trials might improve patient quality of life and survival.

“If we hope to have clinical trials for interventions that extend healthy lifespan in humans, we need reliable, validated biomarkers of ageing,” said co-first author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

“We hope that our framework will help prioritise the most promising biomarkers and provide health care providers with clinically valuable and actionable tools.”

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Healthy aging research to receive $115 million



Global non-profit Hevolution Foundation has announced $115 million in funding that makes up 49 new awards under its Geroscience Research Opportunities (HF-GRO) programme.  

As part of Hevolution’s mission to catalyse the healthspan scientific ecosystem and drive transformative breakthroughs in healthy aging, HF-GRO is funding promising pre-clinical research in aging biology and geroscience. 

Through this first wave of HF-GRO awards, Hevolution will invest up to $115 million in this first cohort of 49 selected projects over the next five years. Its second call for proposals under HF-GRO will be announced later this year, offering an additional $115 million to address the significant funding gaps in aging research.  

Dr. Felipe Sierra, Hevolution’s Chief Scientific Officer stated: “These 49 important research projects represent a significant step forward in deepening our understanding of healthy aging. Hevolution’s prime objective is to mobilise greater investment around uncovering the foundational mechanisms behind biological aging. 

“We are steadfast in our belief that by examining the root causes of aging, rather than solely focusing on its associated diseases, we can usher in a brighter future for humanity.” 

HF-GRO awardees include researchers at prestigious institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Buck Institute, the Mayo Clinic, New York University, and the University of California San Francisco, among many others. 

The American Federation for Aging Research is providing programmatic support for the HF-GRO program, with grantees selected through a rigorous two-stage peer-review process involving 100 experts in aging biology and geroscience. 

Dr Berenice Benayoun, an HF-GRO grant recipient at the University of Southern California, stated: “I am extremely honored and excited that Hevolution selected our project for funding. This is a project close to my heart, which aims at understanding why and how the female and male innate immune aging differs. 

“This funding will support us as we start laying the foundation for a lasting improvement of women’s health throughout aging.” 

To date, Hevolution has committed approximately $250 million to transform the healthy aging sector, including the $40 million for specialised research and development in healthspan science recently announced at Hevolution’s Global Healthspan Summit. 

Hevolution is ramping up its investments to enable healthier aging for all and is now the second largest funder of aging biology research worldwide.  

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