Knowing her family’s history with Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Maria Carolina Gallego-Iradi began researching treatments for the disease in marine mammals.

The UF assistant scientist discovered, in both human and dolphin brains, the manifestation of Alzheimer’s is almost identical, she said. She discovered the similarity while studying  dolphins that washed ashore in Spain and has been conducting a study for more than 10 years.

Gallego-Iradi said the discovery is a rare occurrence in animals, and she hopes it can lead to more knowledge or a treatment for Alzheimer’s.

“It should be an outstanding advance for humanity,” she said.

To study the connection, she said researchers would have to study hundreds of dolphins’ daily activity and collect data on any abnormal losses of function.

But, she said, because dolphins are wild animals, it would be nearly impossible to detect if the marine mammals have Alzheimer’s.  

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease that leads to memory loss, cognitive disability and, ultimately, death. Humans develop Alzheimer’s when they are older, and if dolphins also have Alzheimer’s, it would be the same, she said.

The pathology between dolphins and humans is similar because dolphins carry the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that appear in humans with dementia or Alzheimer’s, Gallego-Iradi said.

“Dolphins’ brains are highly complex, just like humans,” she said.