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AS FAR AS THE MONKEY IS CONCERNED, HE IS SIMPLY WATCHING OBJECTS POP UP ON A SCREEN, SOME HE'S SEEN BEFORE, OCCASIONALLY A NEW ONE. But Stuart Zola, memory researcher and director of Yerkes National Primate Research Center, has carefully designed the test as part of Emory’s multidisciplinary efforts to stop Alzheimer’s in its tracks. Unknown to the monkey, a noninvasive infrared device is tracking his eye movements to determine how long he looks at each object. Like humans, monkeys spend more time looking at novel objects—unless memory loss has erased knowledge of what’s new and what isn’t. Slight damage to the hippocampus, a brain structure important for memory, can cause changes in memory abilities or behavior, and the infrared tracking technology helps detect these changes.
     Damage to the hippocampus also has been implicated in the early memory problems of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a subtle decline in thinking ability with none of the impaired judgment or reasoning seen in early Alzheimer’s. Neurologists in Emory’s Alzheimer’s program found that 12% to 18% of people with MCI go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease each year. Starting that subgroup of MCI patients on medications sooner might keep them independent longer. But which MCI patients are they? Emory scientists and clinicians are working together to adapt Zola’s noninvasive memory tests and infrared technology to find out.
     Similar partnerships focus on better treatments, even vaccines for prevention. Yerkes researcher Lary Walker is developing novel primate models of Alzheimer’s, which are expected to overcome limitations found in mouse models of the disease and speed up development and preclinical testing of new therapies now in development. And thanks to hospital-quality PET and MRI imaging equipment in Yerkes’s neuroscience research facility, scientists can actually monitor the physiologic and structural response of the brain over time to age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
  Collaborators in neuroscience  
Like many of the most innovative programs in research at Emory, the neuroscience research facility at Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the multi-institutional Center for Behavioral Neuroscience housed there have the support of the Georgia Research Alliance. The GRA expects the investment made at Yerkes in neuroscience, as well as in the Emory Vaccine Center located at Yerkes, to yield big payoffs in biotechnology. Emory also has six GRA Eminent Scholars, as well as GRA support for programs in cancer, imaging, and biomedical and tissue engineering.

Explore hidden connections:
> HELP SCIENTISTS TAKE GREAT PICTURES. The Yerkes neuroscience facility houses state-of-the-art imaging technology for research in animals. Naming opportunities range from the building itself ($14 million) to an imaging suite ($250,000) or an administrative office ($15,000). Equipment is needed too: Micro-scanners (positron-emission tomography) to image the brains of tiny rodents cost $850,000 and up—but the value of the information yielded by the scans is even higher.
> HELP WITH CARE FOR PRIMATES. Many aging primates live in large social colonies at the Yerkes field station in Lawrenceville, where a new animal hospital is to be built. The total cost for the two-story, 13,600-square-foot facility is projected at $4.9 million.
> PUT A BAD GENE WHERE IT CAN DO SOME GOOD. Inserting a human gene in a nonhuman primate makes the animal “transgenic.” In collaboration with researchers in human genetics, Yerkes scientists are close to developing the first nonhuman transgenic primate model for Huntington’s disease. Creating a Yerkes chair in transgenic science at a cost of $2 million will help these scientists better understand how the gene works and how its effects could be counteracted.
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