Pharmacy professor’s study aims to ease age-related disorders

Assistant Professor Jaime Ross’ look at role of role of epigenetics in age-related cognitive decline funded by grant from the National Institutes of Health

Aging is a complex process affecting virtually all vital parts of an organism, characterized by an overall decrease in cellular functions that lead to increasing risk of disease and death. As the proportion of the aging population continues to grow worldwide, so does the incidence of age-related disorders, with the most devastating affecting the aging brain, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Thus, there is a tremendous need to discover novel treatments to increase the health of the aging populace. URI pharmacy Assistant Professor Jaime Ross is seeking such treatments in her study on the role of role of epigenetics in age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease, funded by a $747,000, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. The project is currently in its final year of funding.

Emerging evidence links age-related gene expression changes with alterations in how our DNA is packed. Ross, who is also affiliated with the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, will use a novel model called “ICE” (inducible changes in the epigenome) to test whether alterations in DNA packaging result in age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease pathology, and if these changes are preventable or even reversible. The project aims to illuminate the underlying mechanisms that drive age-related cognitive impairment, use the ICE system to determine if epigenetic changes can drive the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and study how chromatin modifications specifically disrupt the mitochondria during dementia and neurodegeneration.

“Results so far support the hypothesis that alterations to the epigenome can trigger aging acceleration in mammals,” Ross wrote in a project summary. “Taken together, this project will provide new valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms of the aging process — focusing on brain aging disorders — reveal potential biomarkers, and highlight therapeutic strategies to improve the human condition.”