A University of Virginia School of Medicine discovery about the role of the brain’s cleaning system in aging and Alzheimer’s disease has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health as one of 2018’s most promising medical advances.
The finding, published in the prestigious journal Nature, suggests that impairments in the lymphatic vessels that carry waste from the brain could be major contributors both to Alzheimer’s and the cognitive decline that comes with age. The NIH included the discovery in its 2018 research highlights in the category of “findings with potential for enhancing human health.”
“When the scientists enhanced vessel drainage in older mice, the animals’ cognitive abilities improved. In contrast, disrupting these vessels increased buildup of Alzheimer’s disease-related proteins,” the NIH wrote. “These results suggest a possible way to combat the cognitive decline seen in aging and age-related diseases.”
The discovery was made by a team led by Jonathan Kipnis, chair of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience and of the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). The finding builds on a 2015 scientific paper from Kipnis’ lab detailing the existence and function of the lymphatic vessels in the meninges surrounding the brain – vessels medical textbooks long insisted did not exist. The paper made headlines around the world and transformed scientists’ understanding of the brain’s relationship to the immune system.
Featured by Forbes
Kipnis’ new aging discovery also was saluted by Forbes in a year-end article headlined “Groundbreaking research in 2018 that furthered the study of Alzheimer’s, cancer and blood pressure.”
The article notes the vital importance of NIH funding for medical research. All the discoveries featured in both the Forbes and NIH lists had received financial support from the NIH.
“With NIH support, scientists across the United States and around the world conduct wide-ranging research to discover ways to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness and disability,” the NIH Research Roundup notes.
Last fall, the NIH last presented Kipnis with its prestigious Director’s Pioneer Award. The prize recognizes scientists with outstanding records of creativity as they pioneer new approaches to the biggest challenges in medical and behavioral research, with the goal of funding work that could have a transformative effect on human health.