April 19th, 2024

U of L PUBlic Professor series delves into the brain


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on March 27, 2024.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Rob Sutherland, professor and Board of Governors research chair in neuroscience, speaks Tuesday at the University of Lethbridge about his upcoming PUBlic Professor Series talk.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

The last University of Lethbridge PUBlic Professor Series talk of the year will be diving into the importance of the brain Thursday night at the Sandman Signature Lodge.

Rob Sutherland, professor and Board of Governors Research Chair in Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge, spoke Tuesday about his upcoming presentation.

“The talk will be centred on why the brain is so important in society right now and there’s actually many reasons, the one I’m going to focus on Thursday night is brain health in relation to aging,” said Sutherland.

 He said people don’t realize that the leading cause of disability globally are neuro-conditions and we are in a unique moment in history where the population of Canada is aging quite dramatically.

 Sutherland said the population is living longer due to improvements in conditions and especially improvements in healthcare.

 “One of the consequences of that, is that we have in that aging population a very large proportion who are developing age-related dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease,” said Sutherland.

He said this is a big wave that’s going to crest within the next 20 to 30 years.

 “We haven’t really seen the bulk of it yet, but as the baby boomers get into their 80s and 90s, we’re going to have a lot of people who are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in particular,” said Sutherland.

 He said during his talk he is going to try as best as he can to answer the questions that people have about dementia, like if they will get it, do they already have it, what they can do to avoid it and when there is going to be a cure for it.

 “We’ve learned a great deal about why it happens and there’s good news and bad news. About one third of the cases of age-related dementia can be prevented by people taking steps through their youth, middle age and in the elderly years,” said Sutherland.

He said in a couple of European countries where this information has been widely spread the rate of dementia is going down, modestly, but it’s going down.

 “The bad news is that most of the preventable steps one can take aren’t effective when you’re already old. There are some things you can do when you’re elderly, but most of the things have to happen when you’re young or middle age,” said Sutherland.

He said a lot of older people are out walking and jogging and in sports facilities and so forth. He said it is not too late, but it is quite late for that kind of preventative step.

 “I’ll be going through some of those aspects of preventing dementia, the current treatments that exist only have a very modest effect in some people, so we really don’t have anything that’s especially effective,” said Sutherland.

 He added that another bit of bad news is that the majority of the risk factors associated with age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s in particular are genetic, that the risk is there since conception.

“Each year we add a couple more that seem to contribute to the risk and a lot of people think there’s just one gene for Alzheimer’s and they want to get a genetic test to see if they have that gene and the bad news is that there’s 44 of them that we know of right now,” said Sutherland.

He said people do not need to have it in their families to be at risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“I’m not trying to be terribly bleak, there is good news and bad news and the hope is that basic research will identify exactly how we can intervene regardless of what the genetics that a person may have,” said Sutherland.

He said they know a good deal about the disease process and some of the researchers at the university of Lethbridge in the neuroscience department are focusing their efforts on some of the things that contribute to the disease process.

 “For example, sleep disruption seems to be incredibly important and that’s something we can do something about and one of our researchers is looking at the mechanisms whereby sleep disruption promotes the disease,” said Sutherland.

He said at the same time other researchers are working on the two disease proteins that pop up uniquely in large amounts in people with age-related dementia.

 “We’re trying to understand the neurobiology of those two proteins, how do they spread, where they first appear, what are the mechanisms that allow these to propagate through the brain,” said Sutherland.

The talk will take place at the Sandman Signature Lodge on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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