Research Stories

Making the Link

St. Boniface Hospital researcher raises the bar in Alzheimer’s research

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Dr. Gordon Glazner believes there is a cure for Alzheimer’s and the work being done at St. Boniface Hospital will be a key component.

In his lab, Dr. Gordon Glazner studies the links between type 2 diabetes and the brain. In his heart, he makes the link between his passion for research and his love for his late grandfather. It’s a fitting tribute to the Colorado farmer known as Link – Link Aulston.

“My grandfather was born and raised in the Ozarks during the Depression. He was incredibly strong and vibrant physically. Even in his 70s, after a long day in the fields, he would break for dinner and then go lift weights in the barn,” says Dr. Glazner.

Link was a cattleman; he hunted, fished, wrestled, and boxed. He even ran liquor for a short time. He taught his grandson to respect nature, to appreciate the details of the landscape, and to understand the complex relationships at work everywhere.

“He taught me to always have my mind open, to be creative, to seek the truth in every situation,” says Dr. Glazner. “These are traits that kept him so young.”

While young at heart, there came a time Link’s mind started to fail him.

“He began to get confused and have mood swings and depression,” recalls Dr. Glazner. “The doctor said it was Alzheimer’s disease. I was relieved, thinking that a diagnosis would come with treatment. But when I asked what we could do, the physician told me: ‘There is really no treatment for this disease. The best you can do is make what time he has left as comfortable as possible.’ They were the most devastating words I had ever heard.”

Dr. Glazner vowed he would pursue a career in biological research to seek a cure for his grandfather and for so many others afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

“This was what he had taught me – you do whatever you can to help those you love. Over the years, during my studies, I watched this terrifying disease slowly destroy my hero. Any family who has had a member with Alzheimer’s knows the true horror it inflicts. My grandfather died in 1995 just as I was beginning my research. I did not save him.”

While Link is gone, there will certainly be a brighter future for Alzheimer’s patients thanks to research Dr. Glazner and his colleagues are conducting today. They have discovered an important chemical link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The research strongly suggests people with type 2 diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. What they are discovering in the lab could alter the course of both diseases.

When someone has diabetes, the body’s production and use of insulin becomes abnormal. This affects how energy gets distributed to the organs. For the brain, though, insulin doesn’t supply energy. Instead it serves as a pro-health hormone. Therefore, when someone has diabetes, the brain is left vulnerable to stress and damage like Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, and stroke.

“Our lab has found that a unique protein in the brain – amyloid precursor protein (APP) – can actually take the place of insulin when insulin levels are too low or when the insulin system isn’t working properly in the brain,” explains Dr. Glazner. “Adding APP to brain cells could protect them against stress and damage.”

One of the big challenges is finding a way to safely deliver APP to a person’s brain. The solution Dr. Glazner and his colleagues are working on is influenced by cutting-edge stem cell technology and gene therapy.

“It turns out stem cells can be made from a person’s own skin. We can actually take a skin sample and make personal stem cells!” says Dr. Glazner. “We can then put in a gene that makes these stem cells generate a high but safe level of APP. Once that’s done, the stem cells can be placed into the brain. Since these are your own cells, there’s no danger of rejection. The stem cells then turn into normal brain cells and generate the high level of APP for many years, and possibly for a lifetime.”

Dr. Glazner believes there is a cure for Alzheimer’s and the work being done at St. Boniface Hospital will be a key component. Dr. Glazner’s progress would have made his grandfather proud.

“The lessons I learned from him – to see the patterns in nature, to search for truth – I use now to find a way to eradicate his killer,” says Dr. Glazner. “As my grandfather taught me, I won’t stop until then.”

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To learn more about Dr. Gordon Glazner’s research, visit www.researchwashere.com.

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