Malayali researcher to study gender connection of Alzheimer’s

She receives Canadian post-doctoral fellowship to probe role of G-protein-coupled receptors

After a recent finding by the Cleveland Clinic indicated that the COVID-19 infection has a relationship with conditions such as brain inflammation that happens in Alzheimer’s disease, research on the mode of pathogenesis in Alzheimer’s is gaining critical attention.

A Malayali researcher’s work in this direction is being encouraged by the University of Ottawa. Shaarika Sarasija was recently awarded a three-year Canadian Institute of Health Research post-doctoral fellowship to study the role of G-protein-coupled receptors in Alzheimer’s disease.

Having joined the lab of Dr. Stephen S.G. Ferguson at the University of Ottawa, she plans to also find out why women appear to be more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. Hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, Shaarika Sarasija is the daughter of Malayalam film producer Kireedom Unni.

“The number of women showing Alzheimer’s symptoms is twice the number of men,” she says. “The major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age and therefore, the increased incidence of the disease in women was initially thought to be a consequence of their longer lifespan. Current research, however, showed that this propensity for Alzheimer’s disease in women is seen even when matched for age and lifestyle of men. This could be due to intrinsic biological differences in men and women, including hormonal changes, sexual dimorphism in brain anatomy, metabolic functions, and stress.”

She graduated with a PhD in Biomedical Sciences in 2017 for her work studying the non-amyloidogenic role of presenilin in Alzheimer’s disease etiology, in the lab of Dr Kenneth R. Norman at the Albany Medical College.

“As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease ravages a large population of the world’s elderly but, despite decades of research, the cause of the disease remains elusive. A common hallmark of this disease is the presence of misfolded proteins called amyloid plaques,” she says.

“My research showed that neurodegeneration can occur in the absence of amyloid plaques due to aberrant calcium signalling and subsequent mitochondrial calcium, oxidative stress, and dysregulated autophagy,” she adds.

This work has been published in journals such as Genetics, eLife and Aging Cell and presented at various international meetings.

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