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Breakthrough innovations for improving health

A surprising weapon in the fight against Alzheimer's

You’ve heard of lab rats, but lab worms? A 1-millimeter-long worm known as the C. elegans, to be precise. At The University of Texas at Austin, this tiny invertebrate may hold the answer to why we develop Alzheimer’s and how to best treat it. 

Modern medicine has helped to extend our lives, but it hasn’t yet found a way to prevent neurological decline. Today, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and their care costs about $183 billion a year.

Moving us a step closer to eradicating the devastating disease, Cockrell School of Engineering Associate Professor Adela Ben-Yakar and College of Natural Sciences Professor Jon Pierce-Shimomura are studying the effects of a variety of Alzheimer’s drugs on the worms, whose genetic makeup is similar to humans and whose short life span enables faster understanding of which drugs are most effective.

Both researchers have a personal investment in the work. Pierce-Shimomura has a son with Down syndrome, which predisposes him to Alzheimer’s. And Ben-Yakar’s mother suffers from Alzheimer’s.

"I know the disease and I live with it daily,” Ben-Yakar says. “So for me this research is very important.”

Image of worm under microscope


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