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Issue 19, October 2011
bulletThe Aging Brain
bulletAging: A Lifelong Experience - GCRI Interview with Ursula M. Staudinger
bulletExercise Benefits Cognition in the Aging Brain
bulletBrain Food: Curcumin for Optimum Protection of the Aging Brain
bulletInnovation: Personalized Depression Therapy Approach
bulletClearing the Brain by Penetrating Its Barriers: German Researchers Discover a New Mechanism and Treatment Option for Alzheimer's
article1The Aging Brain
Aging begins the moment we are born, as internal and external factors work together to rapidly shape our human experience. Over the last 100 years, due to changes in the socio-cultural context in which humans live, the average life expectancy has increased by 30 years, leading to a demographic transition in modern society. With the over-60 population increasing by about two million people per year in the European Union alone, the European Commission has proposed 2012 to be the Year of Active Aging.
On October 13, 2011, at an exclusive GCRI event, Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel and one of Germany's leading researchers of human aging, Dr. Ursula Staudinger, discussed the physiological and psychological factors that contribute to cognitive development in aging. While Dr. Kandel presented his research regarding the nature and mechanical processes of learning and memory, Dr. Staudinger spoke about the interrelationship between humans' biological make-up and the socio-cultural context of society. Both experts agreed that physical fitness is essential in preventing and alleviating age-related memory loss. Staying socially and intellectually active as well as having a positive outlook on life are also factors that contribute to healthy brain plasticity. A video recording of the event will be posted on the GCRI's website shortly.

Prof. Staudinger
article2Aging: A Lifelong Experience - GCRI Interview with Ursula M. Staudinger
Ursula Staudinger thinks outside of the box. At the successful GCRI event on the "Aging Brain," she offered fascinating insights on the continuous interaction between biological make-up and the socio-cultural context in which humans live. In this month's GCRI interview, Staudinger addresses the role of the environment in aging brain plasticity. She also
discusses how female and male brains age differently and why physical activity benefits the aging brain more than computer games. To read the interview, click here.
Staudinger is Vice President of Jacobs University Bremen, Professor of Psychology, Academic Dean of the Jacobs Center of Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development as well as Vice President of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. As a member of the Demography Advisory Group of the German Government, Staudinger represented Germany during the negotiations at the UN for a new World Action Plan on Aging. Adult development in the work context under conditions of demographic aging is one of her research foci; other areas include lifespan developmental psychology, plasticity of aging, and personality growth. Ursula Staudinger's work has been published in refereed journals, such as Psychology and Aging and American Psychologist. She served as President of the German Psychological Society from 2008 to 2010. For a full biography and CV, please click here.

Exercise gear
article3Exercise Benefits Cognition in the Aging Brain
Scientists from the Technische Universität München, Germany, have found that increased physical activity is associated with a lower incidence of cognitive impairment. In the "Intervention Project on Cerebrovascular Diseases and Dementia in the Community of Ebersberg, Bavaria" (INVADE) study, Dr. Thorleif Etgen and his team examined a cohort of 3,903 patients. The initial research was conducted between 2001 and 2003. During this two-year period, the research team followed up with the patients every three months. None of the participants had cognitive impairment at the start of the study. At the conclusion of the study, those who exercised at least three times a week were half as likely to have developed cognitive impairment, compared with the participants who reported no physical activity.
The results of this earlier study are generally consistent with those of current prospective cohort studies. The strengths of the study include the large population-based sample of German health plan members (almost 4,000), who are above 55 years old, without cognitive impairment at enrollment and with comprehensive assessment of cardiovascular risk factors. Important questions, such as  the optimal 'dose' of physical activity, including frequency, duration, and intensity, remain to be answered. According to Dr. Etgen, recommendations for implementation should await the results of several well-conducted randomized trials which are currently being performed. For more information on Dr. Etgen's study, please click here.

article4Brain Food: Curcumin for Optimum Protection of the Aging Brain
Curcumin, the coloring agent that causes curry's yellow coloration and is derived from the Curcuma longa plant, is also a powerful nutraceutical. Intensively investigated for its health benefits, curcumin has been found to be helpful as a therapeutic and preventive agent against degenerative diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer's. In order to learn more about curcumin's healthful effects, researchers have attempted to enhance the uptake and retention of this potent phytochemical in the body. But curcumin remains a difficult compound to detect; it can only be consumed to a certain extent, and is quickly metabolized and excreted.
A research network, sponsored with 1.5 million Euros by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), develops novel strategies to enhance the bioavailability and retention of curcumin in the organism, particularly the brain. The network, which consists of ten partners from academia and industry and is coordinated by Dr. Jan Frank from the University of Hohenheim, also studies the impact on the pharmacokinetics and biological activities of the nutraceutical. The novel curcumin formulation, developed within this project, will then be tested for suitability as ingredients in a range of different functional foods aimed at protecting the aging brain.
For more information, visit the research network's website.

Depression Therapy Approach
article5Innovation: Personalized Depression Therapy Approach
People suffering from depression often undergo long and ineffective therapy. This is due to the fact that standardized medications do not work for all patients. The personalized therapy approach, however, tries to take patients' biological differences into account, thus leading to individualized treatment. The Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, is one of the leading research locations worldwide to establish biomarkers of depression and therapy success. Profiling of patients for genetic and protein markers, testing of their stress reactivity, monitoring sleep parameters, and measuring brain activity allow a more precise characterization of  patients' disease state and recommended medication.
Florian Holsboer's team discovered that the ABCB-1 gene sequence determines the concentration of certain antipsychotic drugs in the brain - and thus their potential benefit. ABCB-1 encodes a molecular transporter in the blood-brain-barrier controlling the access of substances, like antidepressants, into the brain. For successful therapy, the concentration and type of the prescribed antidepressant have to be adjusted depending on the individual functionality of the ABCB-1 protein in patients. As the first medical center in Germany, the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry offers its patients genetic profiling to enable an individual therapy for depression. For more information, click here.

Prof. Pahnke
clearingClearing the Brain by Penetrating its Barriers: German Researchers Discover a New Mechanism and Treatment Option for Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease, one of the most devastating diseases of the elderly, is predicted to affect over 100 million patients worldwide by 2050. Despite intense decades-long research, treatment to significantly slow the course of Alzheimer's is not yet available. Recently, Jens Pahnke and his team at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) discovered a molecular clearing mechanism that suggests a novel approach to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sporadic Alzheimer's disease, which affects the vast majority of Alzheimer's patients.
By establishing Alzheimer's disease mouse models with deficiencies in specific transport molecules in the brain's blood vessels, Pahnke's team discovered that the molecular transporter ABCC1 potently exports toxic amyloid peptides from the Alzheimer's-afflicted brain. Although previous studies showed that a related transporter, ABCB1, also moderately regulates amyloid levels, Pahnke's study provides the first evidence for a new mechanism that regulates the levels of the pathogenic Alzheimer's protein in mouse brains. Following this discovery, Pahnke and his team investigated drugs that activate the ABCC1 transporter. They discovered that thiethylperazine (Torecan®), an ABCC1-activator that is FDA-approved for the treatment of nausea and vomiting, reduces amyloid levels in transgenic mouse brains by up to 70% within 25 days. In addition to identifying a potential new therapeutic target for Alzheimer's treatment, this discovery could also explain the variation in age of onset and clinical course of sporadic Alzheimer's disease cases. For more information and updates, click here.