Cognitive “Locus Coeruleus”

Dr. Adila El Obeid,
UNESCO L’Oreal Ph.D. Scholarship at Uppsala University (Sweden)

With increasing life expectancy around the world, dementia is a rapidly growing socioeconomic
and medical problem. Over 35 million people currently live with dementia and this number is
expected to triple by 2050 as populations live longer, making the care burden on families and the economic burden on society a major global problem. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is currently considered to be the most common cause of dementia. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by decline in cognitive function, progressive impairment of activities of daily living and neuropsychiatric symptoms. It is a major cause of emotional and financial problems the magnitude of which is predicted to increase steeply in the next few decades if no cure is found.

Dr. Adila Elobeid profile photo

Clinicians and researches in the AD field face great challenges including the fact that the pathophysiological processes causing AD are not well understood, and most of the therapeutic
options are limited to treating the symptoms rather than the cause of the disease. Never the less,
new insights into the pathophysiological events that lead to AD increase the hope that reliable
diagnostics and effective therapies may emerge.

In The first part of my PhD research project, we reported that hyperphosphorylated tau pathology
is actually noted at quite early age ranging between 38 to 50 years in “Locus Coeruleus” a nucleus located in a subtentorial regions, pons. The results of this work are published in Acta neuropathologica,”Hyperphosphrylated tau in young and middle-aged subjects”. (Elobeid A,
Soininen H, Alafuzoff I. 2012:123:97-104)

In the second part of the PhD project, we applied the new neuropathological diagnostic criteria
recommended recently by the National Institute on Aging and Alzheimer’s Association. The emphasis in this work was to assess whether the new criteria could be implemented on aged nonimpaired individuals often displaying AD pathology in various extent. We assessed 587 cognitively unimpaired aged subjects. Interestingly 28 subjects showed intermediate level of AD pathology following the new diagnostic criteria. This work is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Future plans:
Given the critical role of axonal transport in maintaining normal cellular function; it is not
surprising that perturbation of microtubule based transport can lead to diverse phenotypes in
humans such as neurodegenerative disorders. Using “immunohistochemistry” we will study levels of expression of an axonal transport protein in post-mortem human brain tissue of different Alzheimer’s disease stages and compare these with levels in normal brains, to assess whether changing levels of this protein may be involved in the disease process. The ultimate goal of this project is to define some of the mechanisms involved in the Alzheimer’s disease process, in particular, axonal transport defects, which may eventually lead to development of new arrays of therapeutics with symptomatic effects or disease modifying potential.

On completion of her PhD, Adila plans to return to Sudan to have a teaching and research career
in neurodegenerative pathology. She hopes to raise awareness of the need to develop her country’s research capacity in this field, leading to the establishment of Sudan’s first brain bank facility. In Sudan, traditional beliefs make it difficult for families to accept post-mortem organ donations. Encouraging brain donations will enable Sudanese researchers to progress more rapidly in understanding neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Interview with Adila:
MOSAICQUE magazine interviewed Adila on what influenced her choices and beliefs in life.

Here is the transcript of the conversation:

1. What influenced your choices in doing this research
I have always liked medicine as a subject and my mother has always supported me for getting educated. In fact she has inspired all five siblings – 2 girls and 3 brothers, to get educated. Her mother “Saud Abd Alaal El Tahir” is her role model. I have been interested in neuropathology – molecular pathology, to understand how normal proteins can be used as a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer’s.

2. What do you plan to do in the future?
After I complete my Ph.D. in Sweden I plan to go back home in Sudan and continue with her teaching career in medicine. Adila also plans to raise awareness of neurodegenerative disorder and develop a Brain Bank by encouraging Sudanese to donate brain.

3. What advice you would like to give the Young in Sudan
Her advice to the young in Sudan, is to invest in research fields of different systems of medicine. She believes this will make Sudan & Africa more scientifically strong and a leader. Adila encourages the young to invest in science and education.

Her message to the young is to “work hard, believe in their goals, and go achieve them”.

4. What are you hobbies
I love Sudanese music and our traditional food, particular our bread.

Profile: Dr. Adila Elobeid is a physician by training from North Sudan. She taught medicine at the University of North Sudan and is currently completing her doctoral degree from Uppsala University under the auspices of UNESCO-L’Oréal Fellowship for Women in Science. The fellowship has supported Adila Elobeid’s postgraduate studies in the field of molecular and morphological pathology. Adila plans to return to Sudan and start a brain organ donation bank and teach medicine. She encourages youth to study medicine and science fields.