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Jason Richardson, Ph.D. and research team at NEOMED

NEOMED, Duke University Collaborate on Alzheimer’s Research

Does being exposed to pesticides put a person at risk of developing cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s Disease, later in life? A NEOMED team led by Jason Richardson, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and director of the neurodegenerative disease and aging research focus area, will join forces with researchers at Duke University, thanks to a new collaborative grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach

The National Institutes of Health Environmental Health Sciences Virtual Consortium for Translational/Transdisciplinary Environmental Research (also known as ViCTER) connects a NIEHS-funded researcher with two new collaborators. All three research projects explore the influence of environmental factors on the development or progression of a disease.

“The idea is to pool knowledge and resources from three interrelated research studies that use complementary approaches to address the question of pesticide exposure as it relates to aging and cognitive dysfunction,’’ says Dr. Richardson.

The word virtual is in the title because the researchers will collaborate long-distance. At Duke, Brenda Plassman, Ph.D., is leading the Agricultural Health Study of Memory in Aging. Also at Duke, Edward Levin, Ph.D., is studying zebrafish to understand the process leading to cognitive impairment, which prevents people from functioning at their normal level. The NEOMED team is coordinating measurement of pesticide levels in participants and using preclinical models to develop biomarkers linking exposure to pesticides and cognitive dysfunction.

Dr. Richardson says the new collaboration will allow NEOMED to extend the reach of its current grant, in which his team is using “humanized” mice and patient-specific stem cells to understand mechanisms by which exposure to the agricultural pesticide DDT increases a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

This next step, says Dr. Richardson, ‘’will allow us to work with a human population that is highly exposed to pesticides by virtue of working on a farm, and potentially to identify molecular biomarkers that identify those at the most risk.”