Researchers in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences were awarded a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate Alzheimer’s disease, a serious condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide and poses significant challenges to patients, families, and health care systems.

Alzheimer’s disease primarily targets the brain, causing memory problems and other difficulties. Researchers have discovered that our muscles, particularly the tiny energy factories inside them called mitochondria, might have a role to play in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. They’ve also found that mitochondrial health, particularly of skeletal muscle, can be maintained into advancing age through regular exercise — but whether exercise is equally beneficial in Alzheimer’s disease is controversial.

Joshua Drake and Junco Warren, both assistant professors in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise and the principal investigator and co-investigator, respectively, on the project, have teamed up to figure out how muscle mitochondria behave when someone has Alzheimer’s disease. By exploring this crucial knowledge gap, Drake and Warren, also an assistant professor of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, hope to find important clues about how Alzheimer's disease develops and why it affects people the way it does.

The findings from this study have the potential to shed light on the intricate relationship between skeletal muscle mitochondrial function and Alzheimer's disease progression. Additionally, research will identify new metabolic pathways that are involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Research outcomes could inform the development of targeted therapies that correct early energy dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s disease, ultimately improving quality of life for those affected.

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