The National Institute of Aging has granted researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center more than $10 million during a five-year period to compare changes that occur in normal aging humans, humans with Alzheimer's disease and humans with mild cognitive impairment to changes that occur in nonhuman primates, in particular chimpanzees and rhesus macaques. The goal of this study is to identify ways to diagnose aging-related diseases earlier in order to increase the chances for effective treatment as well as to develop new treatments based on specific physiological changes.
According to lead researcher Jim Herndon, PhD, "As humans age, verbal knowledge remains stable while short-term memory, working memory, mental processing speed and long-term memory decrease. Using Alzheimer's disease as the model, we are hopeful this study will help us determine how to detect the disease earlier in its course, thus increasing the chance for effective treatment. The study also may provide better understanding of specific physiological changes in humans that will be key in helping us develop the new treatments."
This aging study will be the first to use chimpanzees. According to Herndon, chimpanzees may provide the important evolutionary link to answer why humans are the longest living species and to determine if this characteristic is due to special cognitive capacities. This will be the first examination of chimp cognition in correlation with other aspects of aging.
The Yerkes Research Center is uniquely positioned to conduct this study. "With our well-established colony of chimpanzees and onsite, state-of-the-art imaging facility, Yerkes is one of but a few research centers that can undertake such an extensive aging-related study," said Stuart Zola, PhD, Yerkes director.
For more than seven decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, has been dedicated to advancing scientific understanding of primate biology, behavior, veterinary care and conservation, and to improving human health and well-being. Today, the center, as one of only eight National Institutes of Health--funded national primate research centers, provides specialized scientific resources, expertise and training opportunities. Recognized as a multidisciplinary research institute, the Yerkes Research Center is making landmark discoveries in the fields of microbiology and immunology, neuroscience, psychobiology and sensory-motor systems. Research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases, such as AIDS and Alzheimer's disease; treat cocaine addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's; unlock the secrets of memory; determine behavioral effects of hormone replacement therapy; address vision disorders; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.