Recently the Penn FTD Center’s own Dr. David Irwin was invited to Capitol Hill to talk to congressional staff members and the public about his work and advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of age-related neurodegenerative disease. It was an honor for the FTD Center to receive this opportunity for Dr. Irwin to discuss the critical importance of continued funding for dementia-related research.

Dr. David Irwin traveled to Washington D.C. to present his latest research to congressional staff members and interested members of the public. The goal of his work is to improve the specificity of diagnoses for patients with dementia. Different neurodegenerative diseases are associated with different protein aggregates, but a patient’s symptoms are not enough to tell us about the specific protein pathology in the brain. For example, an individual can show symptoms consistent with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), but an after-life examination could reveal pathology consistent with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Dr. Irwin’s research uses biomarkers that can be observed during life to identify what pathologies underlie a patient’s symptoms.

Improving diagnostic accuracy of pathology is the missing piece to the development of drug therapies. Different proteins have specific roles that are important for healthy brain cell function. When proteins become misfolded, they can clump together into aggregates and disrupt brain cell function. Drug treatments have to be specific enough to target the type of protein that has become aggregated, while also leaving healthy protein intact. This need for specificity means that accurate diagnoses are essential for research in developing effective drug treatments. Dr. Irwin’s work to identify biomarkers of disease is the next step in clinicians being able to make more accurate predictions about underlying pathology, and for researchers to develop appropriate drug treatments.

This research and other scientific advancements rely on public funds, and researchers have a responsibility to discuss the importance of their research and to share what they are learning with the public. Dr. Irwin is honored to share his findings with the public and to advocate for future research: “Our understanding of the genetics and pathophysiology of FTD, AD, and related conditions would not be possible without publicly-funded programs through the National Institutes of Health. I am very enthusiastic and thankful to have the opportunity to help advocate for the mission of the National Institute of Aging, as this directly leads to the improvement in the care of patients I treat with FTD, AD and related disorders.”

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