“We want to find out why some people seem protected against Alzheimer’s”

“We want to find out why some people seem protected against Alzheimer’s”

100,000 euro Talent Prize goes to Maastricht researcher Willemijn Jansen

25-05-2022 · Interview

MAASTRICHT. The brain of almost one in three seventy-year-olds has Alzheimer’s damage, but not all of them have dementia. Maastricht neuropsychologist Willemijn Jansen is trying to find out why some people appear ‘more resistant’. Alzheimer Nederland rewarded her work with a Young Outstanding Researcher Award, an annual talent prize for young researchers, worth 100,000 euro.

The brain of people with Alzheimer’s shows major detrimental protein accumulations, so-called plaques. At the same time, there are plenty of people with the same amount of damage who are not affected by dementia, says Jansen. “Such cases have been described in the literature for quite some time, but during my PhD research I discovered that this concerns a large number of people. About 15 per cent of those in their fifties, rising to half of those in their nineties, have plaque in the brain.”

The assumption for a long time was that if they live long enough, all these people will eventually show symptoms. “Whether this is true or not, it is a fact that many people do not experience complaints. If you can discover where that resistance comes from, this could possibly lead to treatment that can prevent or delay dementia. This approach differs from many other Alzheimer’s research projects, which focuses on the origin of this plaque.”

With her Veni grant, which started last year, Jansen is focusing on the brain fluid of people with Alzheimer’s damage in their brain. “We study the more than two thousand proteins that can be found there. The question is whether we will find particular proteins in ‘resistant’ people that we do not find – or to a lesser degree – in patients suffering from dementia, or vice versa.” She will also look into the effect of lifestyle, social behaviour and cognitive activity. “If we discover that certain actions strengthen the resistance, that would of course be the best and cheapest medicine.”

Because of the prize money of one hundred thousand euro, she also hopes to be able to take the next step: detecting proteins in brain tissue. This can only be done in the brains of deceased persons. “For this, I am going to work together with a ‘brain bank’ in the United States. They store a lot of brains, but have also followed these people in the years prior to their death. We not only know that they didn’t have dementia, but also how they lived.”

Photo: Archive Willemijn Jansen

Tags: alzheimer's,research,award,treatment,dementia,young outstanding researcher award,instagram

Add Response

Click here for our privacy statement.

Since January 2022, Observant only publishes comments of people whose name is known to the editors.