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THIS MONTH'S FEATURE ARTICLE
Engineers will be called upon to find solutions for the challenges the world will face in the 21st century. These articles highlight the diversity of the work which continues in the search for those solutions.

Possible Treatment Target Identified For Alzheimer’s, Age-related Cognitive Decline
August 2018

Do you know someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease? Odds are the answer to that question is yes, since Alzheimer’s is one of the most common age-related disorders in the United States. It’s also the fifth-leading cause of death among adults aged 65 and older.

But as pervasive as the disease may be, one of its most recognizable symptoms – a pronounced decline in cognitive function – is not isolated to Alzheimer’s. Mild cognitive impairment and even dementia can be a normal part of aging and can carry serious implications for an older adult’s autonomy and quality of life. Both Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia are notoriously difficult to treat, due in part to scientists’ lack of understanding about these diseases.


Jennifer Munson works with cell culture media in her lab in Virginia Tech's Kelly Hall. Munson and her collaborators at the University of Virginia discovered that dysfunction of drainage pathways in the brain can aggravate cognitive decline as well as Alzheimer’s disease pathology. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Now research from a collaborative team of neuroscientists and engineers at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia (UVA) is shedding light on the underlying mechanisms of brain aging, along with associated neurological diseases. The team was led by Jonathan Kipnis, chair of neuroscience at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

The study, published recently in Nature, demonstrated that meningeal lymphatic vessels in the brain, newly discovered in 2014 by several members of the same team, play an essential role in maintaining a healthy homeostasis in aging brains and could be a new target for treatment.

“Our results showed that someday this method could be used as a potential treatment to help alleviate the effects not only of Alzheimer’s, but also other age-related cognitive ailments,” said Virginia Tech’s Jennifer Munson, a study co-author and an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics within the College of Engineering.

According to information, researchers found that these vessels drain fluid from the central nervous system into the cervical lymph nodes and dysfunction of that drainage aggravates cognitive decline as well as Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

Moreover, when the researchers treated healthy aged mice with a molecule that increased meningeal lymphatic vessel size and fluid flow within those vessels, the mice showed improved performance on learning and memory tasks.

“As you age, the fluid movement in your brain slows, sometimes to a pace that’s half of what it was when you were younger,” said Prof. Munson. “We discovered that the proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s actually do get drained through these lymphatic vessels in the brain along with other cellular debris, so any decrease in flow is going to affect that protein build-up.”

To see if that flow could be manipulated, Prof. Munson and study co-author Chase Cornelison engineered a hydrogel that contained a molecule known as vascular endothelial growth factor C or VEGF-C.

“Basically, this hydrogel diffuses VEGF-C through the skull and onto those lymphatic vessels in the brain, which causes them to swell.” said Prof. Munson. “Together with our collaborators at UVA, we used MRI technology to show that as a result of this treatment, the bulk flow of fluid in the brain actually increased, and that seemed to have a positive effect on cognitive abilities.”

Cornelison, a postdoctoral research associate in biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech, said he and Prof. Munson hope to use similar hydrogels in future studies as a noninvasive method to alter flow in the brain.

“We want to characterize the cellular response to these changes in flow,” he said. “We know that increased flow in these vessels appears to increase cognitive function, but we don’t know why. Why is slower flow a problem? Is it because you have decreased nutrient transport or increased waste accumulation? Outside of Alzheimer’s disease, we’re not really sure what could be in that fluid that’s causing just normal, age-related cognitive decline.”

“Right now everyone is really focused on bulk flow in the brain, or the overall movement of flow in the brain,” said Prof. Munson. “But to really understand the mechanisms of why flow is linked to cognitive outcomes, we need to look at what’s happening around the neurons and astrocytes – all the cells that are in the brain.”

This research at Virginia Tech was funded in part by the American Cancer Society.



Feature Articles
Below are listed the 12 most recent Feature Articles.
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Possible Treatment Target Identified For Alzheimer’s, Age-related Cognitive Decline
August 2018

Now research from a collaborative team of neuroscientists and engineers at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia is shedding light on the underlying mechanisms of brain aging, along with associated neurological diseases.

New and Improved Version of Phased Array Feed Developed
July 2018

To accelerate the pace of discovery and exploration of the cosmos, a multi-institution team of astronomers and engineers has developed a new and improved version of an unconventional radio-astronomy imaging system…

FIRST® Announces Landmark 2019 Season Theme
June 2018

FIRST ® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international K-12 not-for-profit organization founded by prolific inventor Dean Kamen, recently announced that more than 575,000 students will explore space across all four FIRST programs…

Researchers Study Upcycling Manure Into Paper Products
May 2018

It’s likely not the first thing you think of when you see elephant dung, but this material turns out to be an excellent source of cellulose for paper manufacturing…

‘Fog Harp’ Increases Collection Capacity For Clean Water
April 2018

Installing giant nets along hillsides and mountaintops to catch water out of thin air sounds more like folly than science.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry Visits Jefferson Lab
March 2018

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on February 21st visited the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab)…

Engineers Week 2018
February 2018

Founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), Engineers Week, one of the oldest of America’s professional outreach efforts, celebrates its 67th anniversary in 2018.

Findings Suggest Authentic Research Programs Keep Students In Science
January 2018

Over the last nine years, more than 8,800 bacteria-infecting viruses have been discovered by students exploring scientific research for the first time – most during their first year of college.

Cricket Media and IEEE Team Up To Launch TryEngineering Together™
December 2017

As part of the global commitment to develop a robust STEM workforce for the future, Cricket Media, Inc. and IEEE

Poplar Trees Clean Up Superfund Sites With Help From Probiotics
November 2017

Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) and several small companies have conducted the first large-scale experiment on a Superfund site using poplar trees fortified with a probiotic…

Center For Innovative Technology Awarded $4.8 Million To Enhance Smart Cities
October 2017

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently announced a $4.8 million contract award to the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) of Herndon, Virginia…

VCU Engineering’s Medicines for All Institute Awarded $25 Million
September 2017

The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Engineering has been awarded a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Medicines for All Institute and to fund the institute’s work on a wide range of essential global health treatments.


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