Alzheimer's disease is traditionally regarded as neurodegenerative disease, an illness that results in progressive neuronal damage due to protein accumulation. However, research from Amsterdam UMC increasingly shines a light on the role of the immune system in Alzheimer's offering a new perspective in the hunt for an effective treatment. Today, Professor Elga de Vries is awarded an ERC Advanced Grant of €2.5m to continue this, with the BRAIN Project. 

De Vries, head of Amsterdam UMC's Neuro-Immunology Research group, researches the role of the immune system in neurological diseases, including MS and Alzheimer's disease. In Alzheimer's disease the immune system is derailed likely contributing to inflammation in the brain and neurodegeneration. De Vries has now found that the immune system becomes unbalanced already early in the disease and defined a role for the adaptive immune system. She believes that this discovery creates a promising terrain in the search for a new way to tackle Alzheimer's disease.  

“My findings show that the immune system in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease is already severely derailed. It seems like the immune system is exhausted. Specialized cytotoxic cells can play a role here. These cells may produce toxic chemicals that causes inflammation in the brain and neurodegeneration.” 

Control of Immune System 

The BRAIN Project aims to establish how the altered immune system leads to the progression of Alzheimer's. As potential regulators, De Vries now postulates that bioactive lipids may play a key role. She uncovered that different classes of lipids are involved in Alzheimer’s pathogenesis. However, if and how they control the immune system in Alzheimer’s remains an enigma. 

“My data suggests the importance of bio-active lipids in early Alzheimer’s disease. They may be able to control the immune system. But how and if this actually works is still an enigma,” adds de Vries.  

The BRAIN Project 

The BRAIN Project, thus, aims to establish how the altered, or derailed, immune system correlates with the progression of Alzheimer's with the ultimate goal of developing new strategies that allow early intervention and fight worsening of disease. And for de Vries, these new strategies may well be in reach. Partly, thanks to the discovery of the possible role of cytotoxic cells and, partly due to the identification of how, through the use of lipids, we may be able to get the derailed immune system back on track. 

Advancing Science 

The European Research Council (ERC) today awards 218 Advanced Grants to outstanding research leaders across Europe, as part of the Horizon Europe programme. The grants - totalling €544 million - support cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields, from medicine and physics to social sciences and humanities. 

The ERC Advanced Grant funding is amongst the most prestigious and competitive EU funding schemes, providing researchers with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs. They are awarded to established, leading researchers with a proven track-record of significant research achievements over the past decade.