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A literature review of lipid changes affecting the brain during Alzheimer’s disease (AD) published by researchers from the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW Sydney highlights the innovative potential of lipid studies for identifying biomarkers. The review was published online in the journal, Alzheimer's & Dementia.
Lead author and CHeBA PhD student, Matthew Wong, said lipidomics provides new research pathways for understanding and identifying brain changes associated with dementia.
“Until recently, biomarker research has been limited to studying proteins and genes. The technology has only evolved in the last ten years to allow us to study complex changes in lipids in the brain,” said Mr Wong.
The brain is highly enriched in lipids, which are a class of organic compounds such as fatty acids and their derivatives, including cholesterol. Lipids are produced independently of genes, either through enzyme reactions or dietary intake. Estimates suggest there are at least 100,000 distinct types of lipids in total (referred to as the human “lipidome”). Lipids are involved in critical cell functions, including formation of the cell membrane, energy storage, transport and signalling, but their role in neurodegenerative diseases is still poorly understood.
Co-author and leader of CHeBA’s Proteomics group, Dr Anne Poljak, said the review was an important contribution since it outlines known lipid changes affecting the brain during AD, presents an update on the progress of lipid biomarker research and highlights considerations for future large-scale research to standardise findings for comparison across laboratories.
“There is a strong body of evidence from both animal models and studies in humans that associate abnormal lipid metabolism with AD,” explained Dr Poljak. “Commonly occurring lipids could serve as biomarkers to evaluate risk of developing AD, monitor progression of the disease, or identify subsets of subjects most likely to benefit from a particular treatment option.”
The publication is the most comprehensive review of the field to date, said Professor Perminder Sachdev, Co-Director of CHeBA.
“CHeBA is committed to pursuing ground-breaking research directions which can better explain dementia risk, identify protective factors and/or factors associated with dementia,” he said.
Based on the published review, Mr Wong has identified several lipid extraction protocols and is currently applying these to study how lipidomic profiles vary with age, sex, body mass index and ApoE allele variation.
Matthew Wong is a CHeBA PhD Student.