Senior takes huge strides in early detection of Alzheimer’s disease

By Kimberly Stinson, Contributing Writer

Shrey Patel, senior in LAS studying chemical engineering and on the pre-med track at the University, has been breaking ground in the research of early detection of Alzheimer’s disease — despite pandemic-related disruptions.

Patel found his inspiration for Alzheimer’s disease research after witnessing his grandmother, who he is close to, start developing symptoms of the disease. She was officially diagnosed a few years ago.

Patel has been researching Alzheimer’s disease for a collective period of over two years, starting his initial research in his junior year of high school at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. While attending the academy, Patel performed two research projects through Northwestern University. During his junior year, he began his research by investigating the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

Patel explained how Alzheimer’s disease is a complex illness. “

Amyloid-β oligomers are the proteins that accumulate in the brain and cause memory loss,” he said. “If you have enough of them, it disrupts brain function and leads to other impairments.”

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    Patel’s job at Northwestern was to detect the size of the proteins that specifically cause Alzheimer’s disease. He used a high-pressure liquid chromatography machine to “detect exactly what combinations of these (amyloid-β) oligomers would lead to Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. Patel found that tetramers, molecules made of four subunits, were the most abundant species of oligomers in Alzheimer’s disease.

    The following year, while continuing to conduct research at Northwestern, Patel took his initial study one step further. He began to analyze the brains of mice at three-month intervals during a nine-month period. Patel particularly compared male and female mice to see how early Alzheimer’s would affect different genders while considering age as an additional variable. The study utilized Alzheimer’s-induced mice, which meant all the mice would have a genetic mutation that would lead to the formation of amyloid-β peptides in the brain. From this study, he discovered that female mice were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s at an earlier age than male mice.

    “And with this study, if you look into humans, there is a similar result,” Patel said.

    Patel works in the Mirica Group, where he is in the process of developing diagnostic and therapeutic compounds for the early detection of Alzheimer’s. In his junior year at the University, Patel contacted Dr. Liviu M. Mirica, expressing interest in Mirica’s research on Alzheimer’s. Shortly after, Patel joined the Mirica Group. During his junior year before the pandemic, Patel said he tested “other graduate students’ (diagnostic and therapeutic) compounds to see how well they were able to detect the (amyloid-β) oligomers.” He would put the compounds and the oligomers together and then measure the fluorescence of the compounds to determine how well they could bind to the oligomers.

    However, after COVID-19 disrupted his trips to the lab, Patel had to take on a more virtual role. Over the summer of 2020, he began developing a compound library and trained a computer model to predict future compounds based on the previous compounds and fluorescence data that had been collected.

    Now that he is back in the lab, he has shifted his focus back to developing the compounds for early detection.

    Patel plans on graduating this May and taking a gap year before applying to medical school.

    Kimberly is a senior in LAS.

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