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The Hersenstichting (Dutch Brain Foundation) awards € 555,000 to an Alzheimer's study by Helmut Kessels of the University of Amsterdam. Kessels will use the grant to investigate how the natural protection mechanism of the brain against Alzheimer's can be activated in an active learning brain.

Prof Helmut Kessels, KNAW, professor Cellular and Computational Neurosience
Professor Helmut Kessels.

Kessels is professor of Cellular and Computational Neuroscience at the UvA's Swammerdam Institute of Life Sciences. ‘The beta-amyloid protein is important for the development of Alzheimer's disease’, explains Kessels. ‘Accumulations of beta amyloid cause brain damage and memory problems. This is because it affects the connections between nerve cells, the synapses. People who continue to learn actively on average get Alzheimer's-related memory problems later in life, despite the presence of the beta amyloid.' An active learning brain refers to the situation where someone’s brain is stimulated to learn new things, for example by learning a new language or by puzzling.

Previous research by Kessels and his colleagues has shown that learning processes and activation can make nerve cells resistant to beta amyloid. The new study investigates how this protection mechanism can be activated in an active learning brain. ‘Once we know exactly how this process works, we can also try to activate this natural protection mechanism in people who are in the early stages of Alzheimer's’, says Kessels.

Importance of the study

‘There is currently no therapy available that is effective against Alzheimer's,’ says Koko Beers, spokesperson for the Hersenstichting. ‘To be able to come up with effective therapies in the future, it is essential that we understand how Alzheimer's disease is caused and why one person is more susceptible to developing Alzheimer's than another. We decided to fund this study because the Kessels and his team look at which mechanisms and factors play a role in protecting the brain. In the future, this knowledge can be important for the development of therapies that can delay Alzheimer's.’


Influence on patients and caregivers

Kessels and his team will share their findings with Alzheimer scientists, clinicians and behavioral psychologists in order to put the results into practice as quickly and efficiently as possible. The knowledge and findings obtained are also shared with care institutions, caregivers and the general public to convey a scientifically substantiated message of how an active learning brain can delay Alzheimer's disease. The first results are expected in 2023.

The grant

The grant of the Hersenstichting comes from the Bomers Marres Fund (€ 370,000) and the Van Der Meulen-Van Son Fund (€ 185,000). These two funds were specially established from legacies to finance Alzheimer's research. The objective of the Hersenstichting is to go all out to achieve a healthy brain for everyone. In the Netherlands, 1 in 4 people has a brain disorder. Brain disorders are therefore fast becoming the most widespread disease in our country.