Professor Andreas Pfenning seeks to discover cure for Alzheimer's

Rose Pagano Feb 26, 2017

Andreas Pfenning, an assistant professor for the Department of Computational Biology at Carnegie Mellon, recently joined a renowned research team that is attempting to discover new ways to turn genetic findings into possible new therapies for Alzheimer’s.

Founded in 2004, the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is considered to be a nonprofit organization determined to support research that has the best likelihood of stopping, decelerating, or reversing Alzheimer’s disease.
Pfenning is connected to BrainHub, Carnegie Mellon’s neuroscience initiative. Along with colleague Morgan Wirthlin, who is BrainHub’s post-doctoral fellow, Pfenning has completed some preliminary work on this research.

Now that he is a member of the research team created by the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, Pfenning plans on performing computational techniques as a way to possibly identify the genetic sequences that contain therapeutic potential for people with Alzheimer’s. Pfenning is also creating biological techniques to evaluate the function of human DNA fragments in mice brains.

“We are looking for those parts of the human genome that are active in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients,” Pfenning said in a university press release.

This project is a $4 million investment that will last two years and is referred to as the Collaboration to Infer Regulatory Circuits to Uncover Innovative Therapeutic Strategies (CIRCUITS). Along with Pfenning, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Luebeck will be joining CIRCUITS.
The scientists are optimistic about their findings thus far and believe that they have located around 20 to 30 genetic sequences grouped with this type of dementia. They also think that there are hundreds and possibly thousands of segments associated with this disease.

The process of recognizing and assessing this large amount of DNA sequences means that new analyses and methods to examine these large segments are necessary, according to Pfenning. Pfenning also claims that it is imperative to construct new ways to analyze the DNA in the brains of mice.

“In the past this has been done one gene at a time and it has not been done in a systematic way,” Pfenning said. “My lab will be creating new techniques that bridge analytics and experimentation.”