Future Einsteins At IMRIC Changing Your World: Divorcing Aging From Disease

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Dr. Ehud Cohen wants to slow down aging to protect against degenerative brain disease

Dr. Ehud Cohen in his lab

It’s a Catch-22: if we’re lucky enough to live long lives, then we’re more likely to develop age-related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s. Dr. Ehud Cohen wants to change that by divorcing the aging process from the development of disease.

Most neurodegenerative disorders share two key features, explains the cell biologist, a member of IMRIC’s department of biochemistry and molecular biology: they occur later in life, and they are characterized by the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain. Cohen is intrigued in particular by the late onset of disease: why can someone carry a genetic mutation or predisposition towards Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s for decades before the disorder appears? If we can identify and slow down the aging-related processes associated with neurodegenerative diseases, can we slow or prevent their onset?

Cohen’s early research suggests that the answer to the second question is yes. In worm and mouse models, his team at IMRIC has identified age-related signaling pathways in the brain, as well as compounds that slow them down and prevent the buildup of toxic proteins. They’ve been able to significantly decelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s-like disease in mice.

“It’s really exciting,” says Cohen, 50, “to start from a theoretical question — What goes wrong with the aging process? — and then move to very simple organisms, to mammals and hopefully one day to clinical trials.” In a decade or two, he hopes to see drugs on the market that contain compounds he helped to create. “If I can be involved in actually helping people prevent or delay neurodegenerative diseases, I would be very happy with that.”

With significant improvements to our lifespans, coupled with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, Cohen’s research has enormous potential to improve quality of life for the elderly and their families around the world. At IMRIC, he feels he’s in the right place at the right time to contribute to the research of aging and aging-related diseases.

“People who support IMRIC need to understand just how important their contributions are,” says the Israeli native and father of three, who turned down job offers in the United States in order to return to the Hebrew University. Israel stands out in the Middle East, says Cohen, because of its investment in technology and science. That benefits humankind not only because of scientific advancements, but also through “the creation of the unique environments. In my own lab, I’ve got people of Arab origin, I’ve got religious people, I’ve got secular people, I’ve got Europeans. It’s a great community of people from very different backgrounds who work together, know each other and share experiences. I think it’s very, very important to the future of Israel.”

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