University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

"Liquid Biopsy" of White Matter Degeneration and Bioenergetic Failure in Neurodegenerative Disorders

Research Area

Grant Type



To achieve breakthroughs in therapeutics of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases and prevent dementia, we need a better understanding of molecular abnormalities underlying symptoms of brain aging, such as slower thinking, memory problems, or decreased ability for multitasking. The Elahi laboratory is focused on understanding contributions from disease of vascular cells to brain aging with the goal of identifying new opportunities for intervention on brain aging.

In the project sponsored by the LLHF start-up grant, the Elahi lab proposes to use innovative methods for analysis of cell-specific molecular markers from blood to detect the earliest abnormalities affecting health of blood vessels and their surrounding cells in the inaccessible brain compartment. To detect cell-specific abnormalities, we isolate tiny vesicles (extracellular vesicles or EVs 30-150nm in size) that each cell secretes into its external environment and analyze their molecular content. These vesicles have emerged as cell-specific molecular “containers” that get readily released by all cells and are detectable in blood, saliva, tears, and other bodily fluids. The analyses of these vesicles represent a kind of “liquid biopsy,” providing an unprecedented ability to investigate cell-specific molecular abnormalities in living humans and allowing inferences about the health and disease of cells in inaccessible organs such as the brain.

By combining these molecular analyses with non-invasive imaging of the retina and brain, the lab is working to uncover the earliest pathologies that can be intervened on to treat brain vascular disease with the goal of improving brain health. This project aligns with the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation’s goal to advance studies and collaborative efforts that will improve molecular understanding and diagnostic accuracy of age-associated diseases, and ultimately treatment interventions for more successful aging trajectories.