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Alzheimer's Study Data Gets Boost from WEDC, Wi2

Madison, Wisconsin - The University of Wisconsin-Madison took a big step forward in Alzheimer’s research this week when the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation provided seed funds for a private non-profit organization to work with the university to speed the translation of data from the nation’s largest study of people with a family history of Alzheimer’s into possible diagnostic tools and therapies.


"The seed funding will greatly accelerate the process of making discoveries and translating those discoveries into practice."


- Sterling Johnson

The Wisconsin Technology Innovation Initiative (Wi2) will work with researchers at the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), which has been following study participants for more than a decade.


The WRAP study, undertaken by the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute, an academic center within the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH), is the nation’s largest study of healthy relatives of persons with Alzheimer's disease.


People with family history are a vital part of the study group because they are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than those with no family history.


Starting in 2001, the WRAP study has grown to include some 1,500 individuals. Roughly 10 percent of the study cohort is African-American or Hispanic.


The annual data have been growing for almost 14 years. The dataset has reached a tipping point because the study has matured and looking back at a decade of one person’s data can show a comprehensive picture of what’s happened over that time. Having some 1,500 study participants makes that retrospective look even clearer.


“The potential impact of the fund honors the contributions of participants in the WRAP study who volunteered in hopes of helping researchers around the world develop better diagnostics and treatments,” said Rick Moss, senior associate dean of basic research, biotechnology and graduate studies at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and chief science officer at Wi2. “So many participants are involved so that they might be the last generation to be affected by this disease, and we would like nothing better than to make that a reality.”


“Alzheimer’s disease begins decades before the symptoms first appear. Our research is suggesting that we can detect the pathology in midlife,” said Sterling Johnson, principal investigator of the WRAP study and professor in the Department of Medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “This may be the optimal time frame for testing promising new therapies to prevent or slow the progression of this devastating disease. The seed funding will greatly accelerate the process of making discoveries and translating those discoveries into practice.”


As part of the WRAP study, researchers administer memory tests to gauge cognition and draw blood biannually. In several linked studies, sophisticated MRI and PET brain scans and spinal fluid are also collected. The data help researchers track what’s happening in the brain as it relates to the cognitive decline of participants. Some decline is natural, but sharper declines are cause for concern.


Many participants have asked to be informed if their cognitive test scores fall sharply. This may be an indicator for Alzheimer’s disease, but researchers are careful to provide context, as other medical conditions and big life events like a death in the family or other stresses can cause such temporary declines.


Statewide, 1,345 people from Wisconsin are a part of the study, including 177 from Milwaukee County, 443 from Dane County, 191 from La Crosse County, 32 from Monroe County, 37 from Waukesha County, 28 from Rock County, 32 from Winnebago County, 32 from Outagamie County, and 20 from Brown County.


The participant pool also spans 32 states. Illinois has 34 participants, Minnesota has 57, and Iowa has 21.

Date Published: 06/25/2014

News tag(s):  researchalzheimer's disease

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Alzheimer's Study Data Gets Boost from WEDC, Wi2

Last updated: 07/20/2015
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