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.
Copyright © Emory University, 2006. All Rights Reserved