Inflammation is the body's natural reaction to infection and is necessary for healing, but when inflammation becomes chronic — due to recurring infections, injuries, or long-term exposure to chemicals or pollution — it can harm a person's health.
Two Central Michigan University psychology faculty members are studying inflammation's role in the development of Alzheimer's disease. They are working in collaboration with Michigan State University, the lead institution on the research, which is being funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"We know the inflammation that occurs in the body could be associated with the disease," CMU's Yannick Marchalant said. "We are trying to figure out if the inflammatory processes can influence the progression of Alzheimer's."
Inflammation is one of several risk factors in the development of Alzheimer's disease, said colleague Kevin Park. Together, they are trying to determine if inflammation is just a risk factor or if it actually drives the disease's progression.
If they find that inflammation is a key element, then people could take steps early in life to reduce inflammatory events by doing things such as reducing stress, eating healthy foods and avoiding areas of high pollution.
Watching the markers
To gauge the progression of Alzheimer's disease, scientists typically look at the buildup of two identifying markers in the brain, such as abnormal proteins and neuron loss.
Park, as part of the team, has developed a test model of the disease in which four markers are watched simultaneously.
They are exploring how the inflammation events and the markers interact, and what drives one or the other. They are manipulating inflammation events to see how inflammation affects each of the four markers.
Once they know what changes, and how and why they are changing, they can attempt to fix the problem.
"It's the first step," Park said. "We have a model where we can test hypotheses and see what we can do to make things better."
"Overall, if researchers are able to delay symptoms from appearing, patients may get a better chance of living healthier longer," Marchalant said.