Alzheimer's Research Center Awarded $7.5 Million NIH Grant
Madison, Wisconsin - Three hundred published works. $88 million in additional grants. Fistfuls of newly identified risk factors and biomarkers in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Over the last five years, the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) at the University of Wisconsin has been very productive.
Acknowledging their great work, the National Institutes of Health have awarded the ADRC another five-year grant of $7.5 million.
First established in 2009, the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center was the first geriatric-based program in the country to earn an Alzheimer’s center designation by the NIH. Its mission is to provide infrastructure, services and support to Alzheimer’s related research projects across campus.
After five years of noted success, the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center submitted a grant for continuing funding. The competitive review process yielded funding through March 2019.
“We have very good people from all across campus and were very successful in accomplishing many of the things we set out to do,” said Dr. Sanjay Asthana, director of the ADRC and professor of medicine (geriatrics) at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
The first NIH grant supported the development of a pool of research volunteers more than 500 people strong - some healthy individuals, some in the middle stages of mild cognitive impairment, and the majority with a strong parental history. (Having a parent who suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia is a known risk factor; having a mother with the disease increases it further.)
Researchers gather sophisticated brain scans and annually administer memory tests and draw blood, and about 50 percent of volunteers have agreed to provide spinal fluid. According to Asthana, many of the 500 participants have also consented to donate their brain for autopsy.
“These people are moving along in the aging process and we can see those who develop Alzheimer’s,” said Asthana. “We want to study what changes take place in those who develop the disease and study those changes.”
In addition to this group, which Asthana plans to double in size with the help of this new grant, the ADRC has several other research projects that are also funded along with the major grant. Those projects involve basic research, diabetes and risk for Alzheimer’s, and patient-care delivery.
The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center imaging group, led by Dr. Sterling Johnson, professor of medicine (geriatrics) at the UW, has shown that a group of research participants with parental history of the disease show changes in the brain before demonstrating symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia. This was a collaborative effort with the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), the nation’s largest long-term study of relatives of people with Alzheimer’s disease, which is run by the School of Medicine and Public Health.
One study with WRAP found that asymptomatic patients, when subjected to a memory test during a brain scan, have less activation in the hippocampus - the memory center of the brain - if they have a parental history compared to those who don’t have such a history. Over time, the study shows this area of the brain begins to shrink.
Another study used specialized PET scans to investigate amyloid plaque, the hallmark bundles of proteins that are thought to block cell signaling in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease to determine how early they occur and whether the plaque is predictive of future symptoms.
Other current research projects include:
- Dr. Barbara Bendlin, assistant professor of medicine (geriatrics), has shown, through examining brain scans and spinal fluid, that people who have insulin resistance show signs of structural and functional changes in areas of the brain that are affected by Alzheimer’s, even while asymptomatic.
- Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine (geriatrics), is publishing data regarding exercise and its effects in staving off Alzheimer’s disease in the WRAP project. Through questionnaires about exercise patterns in people with parental history and brain scans, he found that the brain volume of participants who didn’t exercise decreased over time, whereas participants whose exercised did not show similar decreases.
- Dr. Cindy Carlsson, associate professor of medicine (geriatrics), is leading the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center’s spinal fluid collection efforts and conducting research measuring a number of proteins in asymptomatic patients. She has identified certain proteins that indicate increased inflammation or swelling in the brain in people with parental history, as well as some changes in other proteins.
- Dr. Amy Kind, an assistant professor of medicine (geriatrics), is developing transitions of care, ways to best support health systems and patients when patients move from the hospital to home environments.
- Drs. Dorothy Edwards, professor of kinesiology, and Carey Gleason, assistant professor of medicine (geriatrics) are examining ways to increase research participation of people of color in ADRC studies and other issues related to health disparities in dementia care.
Date Published: 06/16/2014