Gene Therapy in Alzheimer's Disease: Novel Therapies and Ethical Aspects of Somatic Gene Editing (2019-2020)


The causative factors and the mechanism behind the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease remain unknown. Historically, the common view has been that the A-beta peptide is the principal cause, but multiple clinical trials targeting the A-beta aggregates have not proved this theory. Moreover, it’s thought that treating Alzheimer’s disease at a late stage, when the damage to the patient is already apparent, would diminish the effectiveness of the disease-modifying therapy.

Gaining insight into the biological pathways and molecular basis underlying Alzheimer’s disease should lead to the development of disease-modifying and preventative treatments. Such treatments will increase our ability to offset this devastating disease and mitigate the suffering of Alzheimer’s disease patients and their loved ones. That said, new therapies bring new questions. How will gene therapy in Alzheimer’s disease be distributed in a just way? Who will pay for it? What are the implications of administering expensive therapies to patients who are closer to the end of life than the beginning?

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will advance development of new gene therapy technologies that will target age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Students will conduct research on Alzheimer’s disease etiology and mechanisms using cutting-edge genome editing technologies and state-of-the-art stem cell techniques (see diagram).

By conducting hands-on research and working with knowledgeable mentors, team members will gain real-world experience in developing gene therapies aimed at addressing a devastating public health problem. The outcomes of this research will greatly facilitate the development of next-generation “smart” drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease.

To examine the ethical, legal and social issues of Alzheimer’s disease treatment, team members will undertake case studies of earlier gene therapies and trace their development and deployment; analyze novel questions of cost and pricing for so-called “one and done” therapies; and mine the literature for approaches to late-onset diseases that have reckoned with both treatment and palliative care/quality-of-life issues.

Explore this team’s goals, processes and norms by reviewing their team charter and team norms.

Anticipated Outputs

Manuscripts in scientific journals; presentations at professional conferences; external grant applications; independent projects


Summer 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Summer 2019: Acquire skills in techniques and laboratory procedures; search literature and define relevant ethical, legal and social questions; initiate individual projects that could potentially become the subjects of independent studies in fall and spring semesters
  • Fall 2019: Independent study
  • Spring 2020: Independent study

Team Outputs to Date

Tackling Alzheimer’s with Genetics (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

Gene Therapy in Alzheimer’s Disease: Understanding the Role of Apolipoprotein E in Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (poster by Angela Wei, Dominic Tringali, Gabriella MacDougall, Ashley Kilgore, Ornit Chiba-Falek)

Gene Therapy in Alzheimer’s Disease: Novel Therapies and Ethical Aspects of Somatic Gene Editing (poster by Natalie Asmus, Boris Kantor)  

Gene Therapy in Alzheimer’s Disease: Novel Therapies and Ethical Aspects of Somatic Gene Editing (poster by Anna Yang, Misha Angrist)

Gene Therapy in Alzheimer’s Disease: Novel Therapies and Ethical Aspects of Somatic Gene Editing (poster by Angela Wei, Natalie Asmus, Anna Yang)

This Team in the News

New Bass Connections Project Focuses on Alzheimer’s Disease

Chiba-Falek Selected for Multidisciplinary Bass Connections Project

New Bass Connections Project Researches Alzheimer’s Disease

See related team, Gene Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Ethical Aspects of Genome Editing (2020-2021).


Image by Angela Wei

Model showing project focus.

Team Leaders

  • Misha Angrist, Social Science Research Institute
  • Ornit Chiba-Falek, School of Medicine-Neurology
  • Boris Kantor, School of Medicine-Neurobiology

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Natalie Asmus
  • Angela Wei
  • Anna Yang