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Your Environment. Your Health.

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Program Leads

Jonathan Hollander
Jonathan Hollander, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/dert/geh/hollander/index.cfm)
Health Scientist Administrator
P.O. Box 12233
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709
Tel (919) 541-9467
Fax (919) 541-0462
jonathan.hollander@nih.gov
Annette G. Kirshner
Annette Kirshner, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/dert/geh/kirsher/index.cfm)
Health Scientist Administrator

P.O. Box 12233
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709 Tel (919) 541-0488
Fax (919) 541-0462
kirshner@niehs.nih.gov

Cindy Lawler
Cindy Lawler, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/dert/geh/lawler/index.cfm)
Branch Chief
Neuroscience
Division of Extramural Research and Training
P.O. Box 12233
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709
Tel (919) 316-4671
Fax (919) 541-0462
lawler@niehs.nih.gov

Program Description

Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people worldwide, and Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the most common types. More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and at least 500,000 Americans live with Parkinson's disease, although some estimates are much higher.

Neurodegenerative diseases occur when nerve cells in the brain or peripheral nervous system lose function over time and ultimately die. Although treatments may help relieve some of the physical or mental symptoms associated with neurodegenerative diseases, there is currently no cure or way to slow disease progression.

The risk of being affected by a neurodegenerative disease increases dramatically with age. Population-wide health improvements have increased lifespan, which along with a larger generation of aging Americans means more people may be affected by neurodegenerative diseases in coming decades. This creates a critical need to improve our understanding of what causes neurodegenerative diseases and develop new approaches for treatment and prevention.

Scientists now recognize that the combination of a person’s genes and environment contributes to their risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. That is, a person might have a gene that makes them more susceptible to a certain neurodegenerative disease, but whether, when, and how severely the person is affected depends on what environmental factors he or she is exposed to during life. Key research challenges are identifying and measuring exposures that may have occurred many years before an individual is diagnosed.

What NIEHS is doing

NIEHS currently funds 77 research projects that look at how exposure to pesticides, pollution, and other contaminants, alone and in combination with specific genes, affects neurodegeneration. Additionally, 139 grants were funded from 1996 to 2012. NIEHS also provides funding for career development programs to support talented researchers and cultivate the next generation of leaders in the field.

Grant recipients in this area study the following diseases:

  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Motor neuron disease
  • Schizophrenia

 

Grant recipients in this area study the following types of environmental factors:

  • Pesticides (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/index.cfm) (http://www.niehs.nih.govhttp://edit.niehs.nih.gov:9992/Rhythmyx/assembler/render?sys_authtype=0&sys_variantid=925&sys_revision=28&sys_contentid=9853&sys_context=0), fungicides, and insecticides
  • Metals (for example, arsenic, Lead (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/lead/index.cfm) (http://www.niehs.nih.govhttp://edit.niehs.nih.gov:9992/Rhythmyx/assembler/render?sys_authtype=0&sys_variantid=925&sys_revision=36&sys_contentid=9718&sys_context=0), manganese)
  • Chemicals used in industry or consumer products (for example, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs)
  • Air pollution
  • Dietary and lifestyle factors (for example, caffeine, tobacco smoke, dietary antioxidants)
  • Biological factors (for example, endotoxins produced by bacteria)

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