The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center will establish, among other activities, a first-of-its-kind research program into improving the care of Alzheimer’s patients and reducing caregiver stress through a $15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health-National Institute on Aging (NIH-NIA). This grant will provide $3 million annually for five years.

The money will help the center establish new areas of expertise, train the next generation of Alzheimer’s disease researchers, and develop tools and techniques to better identify the earliest stages of the disease.

“In the last decade, our center has become a national leader in developing and perfecting new brain imaging techniques, studying exercise and brain health, and identifying prevention strategies,” says Sanjay Asthana, MD, founding director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and associate dean of gerontology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “This important funding will help our center build on this excellence by allowing us to expand research into early diagnosis of the disease and identify better treatments for people living with the disease and their caregivers.”

The recent federal funding will allow the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to establish three new focus areas within the center:

  • Biomarker research
    • Biomarkers, or early indicators of a disease, are the new frontier of Alzheimer’s disease research. Advanced brain imaging and spinal-fluid samples offer a look inside the brain of a living person, techniques that were not possible a few years ago. These tools allow scientists to identify brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, track their rate of progression, and determine whether and when they may result in symptoms such as memory loss. The new Biomarker Research group will combine and expand the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center's neuroimaging and cerebrospinal fluid collection programs under the direction of Sterling Johnson, professor of medicine (geriatrics) and an internationally recognized Alzheimer’s disease researcher.
  • Health care research
    • A new Health Care Research group that will conduct studies into improved patient care and reducing caregiver stress is the first of its kind among Alzheimer’s disease research programs in the United States. Under the leadership of Amy Kind, MD,PhD, associate professor of medicine (geriatrics) and a national leader in the field of neighborhood disadvantage and health disparities research, the group will facilitate studies into improved health care models and ways to integrate these findings into hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other caregiving institutions.
  • Researcher education
    • The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center created a new infrastructure to train the next generation of Alzheimer’s disease scientists. Barbara Bendlin, PhD, associate professor of medicine (geriatrics) and a distinguished Alzheimer’s disease researcher, will lead the new educational efforts. Bendlin has mentored more than 50 trainees and sat on more than 30 graduate thesis committees in her 10-year career at UW-Madison. The program will support training and education activities for learners at all levels, from high school through new professors.

“There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and drug trials fail at an alarming rate. In order to stave off the devastation of this disease, I see this as an ‘all hands on deck’ situation for the scientific community. We need to attract smart, young minds to help us uncover the disease’s origins and pathways,” Asthana says. “The Wisconsin ADRC aims to establish itself as an internationally recognized destination for academic training of Alzheimer’s disease scientists and doctors. We want to find a cure for this disease.”

The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center was established in 2009 with a grant from the NIH-NIA. It is one of about 30 such centers in the country, making it part of a national network of scientists working to find preventive factors, treatments, and ultimately a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.