An Update on Promising Alzheimer’s Research: Allison Aiello, PhD

Allison Aiello, PhD, a Professor of Epidemiology and current Carolina Population Center Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of the two, 2018 inaugural grant awardees of the Alzheimer’s Research Grant receiving $50,000 in research funding. Dr. Aiello’s proposed research showed thought-provoking approaches to discover a possible linkage between infectious diseases and Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, almost a year into her research titled The Role of Dementia-Associated Pathogen Burden in the Development of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Other Dementias, Dr. Aiello shared some updates on her research with the IDSA Foundation staff.

IDSA Foundation: What are some updates on your research?

Dr. Ailleo: Over the past year of the grant, we have submitted two conference abstracts and prepared a
manuscript that will be submitted soon. The main findings of this work highlight a significant role for
cytomegalovirus in cognitive impairment and the buffering effects of educational attainment.

Using data from a large US representative study of older adults in the US, we found that cytomegalovirus infection confers up to a 6-point lower score in cognitive function. This suggests that CMV may be a key infectious marker for predicting cognitive decline and impairment. We also see that inflammation related cytokines, including IL-6 and TNF are significantly related to cognitive function. Of note, cortisol, a glucocorticoid stress hormone that has been shown to potentiate the effects of some infections, appears to interact with TNF to increase risk of cognitive impairment. To our knowledge, this is the first report of an interaction between cortisol and inflammatory markers related to response to infection, and cognitive impairment.

IDSA Foundation: What has been the most exciting part about conducting your research through this grant?

Dr. Ailleo: It has been very rewarding to observe both my student and post-doctoral trainee’s enthusiasm and excitement regarding the prospects of identifying infectious causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. Our research group is highly interdisciplinary, and this project has provided an excellent opportunity to mentor trainees with varied interests and provide training that cuts across infectious diseases, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease.

IDSA Foundation: How beneficial have you found this grant to be towards your research?

Dr. Ailleo: The IDSA Foundation’s Alzheimer’s Research grant has been a key source for supporting creativity in our research approaches and fostering interdisciplinarity, which are both needed to address cutting-edge research linking infection with AD. The support has provided flexibility to pursue high risk and high reward scientific questions.

IDSA Foundation: Have you encountered major hurdles through your research?

Dr. Ailleo: There have not been any major hurdles on this project. We would like to expand our work to
address similar questions using larger data sets and experiment with some new approaches for identifying causal effects of infections on AD.

IDSA Foundation: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Dr. Ailleo: We are very grateful for this funding and are looking forward to continuing to contribute to this novel area of research.

The IDSA Foundation is excited to see how Dr. Aiello’s research will continue to develop through the help of the Alzheimer’s Research Grant. To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Research Grant click here.