The University of California announced on Monday (July 25) the recipients of the UC Cures for Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative awards, which were created to accelerate the development of promising Alzheimer’s disease research by UC scientists. The initiative focuses on cutting-edge projects primed for clinical trial. 

The two projects selected — one led by UC Irvine and the other by UC San Francisco — will be awarded $1 million annually over two years. Conducted in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study at UC San Diego, the projects are expected to launch clinical trials sometime in the next year.

“As a premier public research university with dedicated faculty and a wealth of resources, we are uniquely positioned to take on the seemingly insurmountable challenge of Alzheimer’s disease,” said UC President Janet Napolitano, who committed $4 million to establish the initiative. “These impressive projects focus our efforts on finding effective treatments for one of the most terrible, pervasive diseases of our time.”

The project teams will evaluate drugs targeting tau neurofibrillary tangles in the brain that, along with amyloid plaques, are characteristic of the disease. Plaques and tangles, formed from abnormal proteins, damage neurons and block signaling between the nerve cells in the brain.

“We are extremely excited to support two projects that show great promise in developing novel therapies for halting the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Gary S. Firestein, director of the UC San Diego Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI) and dean and associate vice chancellor of translational medicine at UC San Diego.

Adam Boxer, associate professor of neurology at UC San Francisco, will lead a team to conduct a clinical trial on the safety, tolerability and effects of the drug salsalate to determine if it reduces acetylation of tau for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Acetylation refers to a chemical reaction with potential consequences regarding function. The team includes research collaborators from UC San Francisco and UC San Diego.

Joshua Grill, associate professor in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at UC Irvine, will lead a team to study the effects of high doses of vitamin nicotinamide in reducing tau phosphorylation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Phosphorylation is a process in which protein enzymes can be turned on and off, affecting function. The team includes research collaborators from UC Irvine, UCLA and UC San Diego.

Earlier this year, researchers from the 10-campus system were invited to submit collaborative research proposals on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. An independent review committee comprised of experts ranked the proposals.

UC Cures for Alzheimer’s leverages the strength and experience of the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study at UC San Diego and the UC Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration and Development program, a consortium of the five UC health campuses that shares data and resources to improve health through ambitious research and clinical initiatives.