What research on Alzheimer Disease means to me.
The enormity of the growing socio-economical problem generated by Alzheimer Disease has challenged me to try to make a difference for the individuals and the families affected by this disease. Using my scientific knowledge in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, and pathology, my research is focused on the identification of the earliest brain degenerative events that cause the loss of memory and the ensuing dementia in Alzheimer Disease. I am convinced that only the correct identification of these early degenerative events can provide a valid therapeutic target against which efficient medication or treatments can be developed to stop the disease before it causes irreversible damage to the brain.
Dr. Andréa C. Leblanc is a James McGill Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University and a researcher at the Bloomfield Center for Research in Aging in the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research in Montreal (1993-present). Dr Leblanc is also an associate member in the Department of anatomy and Cell Biology and in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at McGill University. Dr Leblanc received a Ph.D. in the Department of Biochemistry at Dalhousie University and did her post-doctoral training in the Department of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation in Rochester, MN. Dr Leblanc initiated her studies on Alzheimer and prion diseases as an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio from 1989 to 1993.
Dr Leblanc is renowned for her discovery of Caspase-6 as a very early event in Alzheimer disease and her work on the neuroprotective function of normal cellular prion protein. The prion work was chosen as one of Quebec Science Top 10 discoveries in 2003. Dr Leblanc has been a member of several committees at the National Institutes of Health and was recently appointed on their College of Scientific Review. She has been a chercheur boursier and a Chercheur National of the Fond de Recherche en Santé du Québec. In 2009, she was the first woman to receive an Honoris Causa Doctorate es Science attributed from the University of Moncton.
Dr. Leblanc’s laboratory is focused on three major themes, all in the area of Caspase-6. Her laboratory has built up an impressive case for Caspase-6, an enzyme that belongs to a family of similar enzymes that play a role in cell death and inflammation. The current “amyloid theory” of Alzheimer disease fingers amyloid beta (Abeta) as the fundamental cause of the disease. Abeta is a peptide which forms the infamous “senile plaques” in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Leblanc’s theory – which denotes Abeta to a consequence rather than a cause of the disease – has been controversial among her colleagues, but the evidence has steadily mounted to support Leblanc’s theories about Abeta. Active Caspase-6 increases the production of Abeta in human neurons and contributes to several other cellular defects associated with Alzheimer disease.
Her research has shown that neurons, the type of cells mainly affected in Alzheimer disease brains, activate Caspase-6 when they are stressed. Otherwise healthy neurons degenerate when exposed to active Caspase-6. Caspase-6 enzyme does not kill neurons, but it causes neurodegeneration. The brain of people who died of Alzheimer disease have extremely high levels of activated Caspase-6, while Leblanc and her colleagues have found virtually none in the brains of older people or anyone under the age of 45 who did not have the disease
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