Identifying New Pathways and Blood-based Biomarkers Underlying Behavioral Problems in Alzheimer's Disease

Olivia Okereke, MD
Olivia Okereke, MD
MGH Research Scholar 2021-2026
Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital
Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School

Alzheimer's disease (AD) has no known cure. Over 5 million Americans are affected, and tens of millions more have mild cognitive disorders and are at risk for AD.

Although memory loss is considered the clinical hallmark of AD, patients and families know that behavioral and psychological symptoms of the disease are often the most disabling and devastating. Yet, there are currently no effective or approved medications for these symptoms.

Our goal is to identify novel pathways and markers underlying behavioral problems in AD. This work may illuminate paths to new treatments. Also, it would be an exciting breakthrough to identify such markers in blood samples, as collecting blood involves low burden for patients and is widely accessible.

We were among the first to report that blood-based biomarkers—as early as mid-life—can predict memory and cognitive decline 10-15 years later. Recently, we found that blood-based epigenetic (DNA methylation) markers correspond with cognitive function and behavioral symptoms in mid-life and older adults and may reflect changes in expression of genes involved in AD. We have been at the forefront of using data-driven approaches to characterize changes in mood and behavior from mid- to late-life and to relate these patterns to biomarkers.