Lynn M. Bekris, PhD is the director of the Cleveland Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Biomarker Core and and associate staff member at the Cleveland Clinic Genomic Medicine institute. Reena Mehra, MD, MS is a Professor of Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University and the Director of Sleep Disorders Research at Cleveland Clinic. We are so excited to announce these two dynamic women as 2023 WAM Research Grant Recipients, and we are proud to have the opportunity to support their groundbreaking research projects.

I’m Lynn Bekris, one of the 2023 WAM grant recipients. I am a molecular biologist with an Alzheimer’s disease biomarker discovery lab. I am also the daughter of a women that died of Alzheimer’s disease and the mother of three daughters.

A challenge that the Alzheimer’s disease research community faces is that evidence points to differences between women and men in Alzheimer’s disease hallmarks of amyloid and tau, two proteins that build up in the brains of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Also, the immune system plays an important role in the disease, and women are disproportionately affected by immune system dysfunction. Even though a dysfunctional immune response is now known to play a strong role in the disease, we have not defined the differences between women and men in their immune response to Alzheimer’s disease hallmarks of amyloid and tau.

Fortunately, alterations in the immune response can be measured in the blood. My goal is to tease apart the differences between women and men in their blood proteome, that is, proteins in the blood, such as immune system related proteins. The amazing thing is that we now can do this by measuring over 7000 proteins at once in a single sample of plasma extracted from blood. My hope is that our research will provide a blood-based test that can easily test women with Alzheimer’s disease hallmarks for changes in their immune system. The ultimate goal is that we may use immune-related therapeutics to slow or stop disease progression before there is severe memory loss. We critically need a blood-based biomarker tool to first identify specific patients that need the treatment. This project will help get us there.

I am very glad that WAM finds this research promising. I am honored to join this dedicated team, and I am excited to get started. Not only because science needs these answers, but also because my family history makes this work very personal for me.

I’m Dr. Reena Mehra, a physician scientist passionate about the intersection of sleep and circadian rhythm disruption and impact on health for, to which I have dedicated the last 20 years of my career. I am tremendously grateful for this Women’s Alzheimer Movement Research Award and wish to extend my sincere gratitude to the incredibly inspiring Maria Shriver and her team for their steadfast, tour de force advocacy in this incredibly important area.

So, what will our team study with this award? 

We know that sleep and circadian disruption is so common in women across the lifespan, negatively affecting quality of life for many. We also know that sleep apnea is more common when women become post-menopausal and that it is associated with a higher rate of cognitive decline in women compared to men.

What we do not know is HOW sleep disruption such as sleep apnea and other disorders may place women at risk for faster progression of cognitive decline over time—this is our focus for this research. We plan to use already existing data collected by our group to better understand the mechanism by which sleep disruption leads to more progression of Alzheimer’s disease in women. Our teams in the Centers for Brain Health and Sleep Disorders at Cleveland Clinic have have collected unique data involving overnight sleep study and wearable multi-day and night monitoring along with, blood and brain biomarkers. Support from this grant will be critical for us and serve as a launchpad and catalyst for us to analyze these data.