URI receives $3 million grant to study disease that often co-exists with Alzheimer’s

Ryan Institute neuroscientist's work will focus on early biomarkers of cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

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William Van Nostrand, Hermann Chair of Neuroscience at URI’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. (Photo by Kathleen Dooher)
William Van Nostrand, Hermann Professor of Neuroscience at URI’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. (Photo by Kathleen Dooher)

KINGSTON, R.I., June 28, 2018 — A $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will support a University of Rhode Island neuroscientist’s research to identify early-stage biomarkers for a brain disease often found to coexist with Alzheimer’s disease.

The five-year grant was awarded to William Van Nostrand, Hermann Professor of Neuroscience at URI’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. The funding will help fill a critical research niche in early detection of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a disease in which amyloid deposits form in small and medium blood vessels in the central nervous system, contributing to dementia and brain hemorrhages. Although the disease is common in the elderly, it often isn’t diagnosed until its late stages, when bleeds can be detected by brain imaging.

“Early and accurate diagnosis of this condition has remained elusive,” said Van Nostrand. “There is a need for biomarkers for early stages of disease prior to the presence of lesions detected by neuroimaging. The purpose of this project is to fill this void by developing and validating robust biological fluid markers for CAA.”

The project, which begins in July, will be conducted in collaboration with Professor Marcel Verbeek at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, Netherlands, based on previous work by the Verbeek and Van Nostrand labs that identified potential cerebral amyloid angiopathy biomarkers in brain tissue. A biological fluid marker not only could potentially provide an earlier, more accurate diagnosis of the disease, but could also help guide treatment options, particularly in therapies where the disease represents a heightened risk of hemorrhage.

Van Nostrand arrived at the Ryan Institute in the fall of 2017 from Stony Brook, bringing with him $4.1 million in grant funding. He is noted for being the first researcher to purify and characterize amyloid precursor protein, the progenitor of the amyloid-beta protein that forms hallmark plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. “Our goal is ultimately to identify mechanisms of disease that could be targets for new treatments,” he said.

Founded in 2013, the Ryan Institute for Neuroscience is focused on investigating factors in neurodegenerative disease that have been under-explored, including inflammation, the immune system, and the role of blood vessels in the development and progression of disease.