Spotting brain changes before symptoms appear… identifying risk-factor genes… finding drugs that improve memory… these are a few goals of newly-funded Alzheimer’s research. And for millions of us, tomorrow won’t be too soon. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, is boosting these and other research areas in grants made with American Recovery and Reinvestment Funds.
Dementia is the looming fear of most of us over 50, an age group that recently inducted my son. My own mother died at 70, after a decade of strokes and the gradual fuzzing-out of a once sharp mind. My father-in-law, and his father, both suffered from “Alzheimer’s-related” illness. We are now light years beyond what we knew then, but probably another few light years away from prevention or cure. When you have witnessed close-on the devastation that dementia wreaks, any step toward those goals is very good news.
A few of the new or ongoing projects getting a boost from Recovery Act dollars were summarized several days ago by Medical News Today:
“We are delighted to announce the award of Recovery Act funds to many dedicated, hardworking scientists committed to advancing scientific discovery into Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “Over the next two years, the recipients will use this unprecedented boost in research funds to help reach our ultimate goal of understanding age-related cognitive decline and reducing the individual and societal burden of this devastating disease.”
More than 100 Alzheimer’s or Alzheimer’s-related research grants were awarded under the Recovery Act.
The complete list, a daunting read for the scientifically challenged, is available online at the ARRA (Recovery Act) site. Snippets of the list, paraphrased from the Medical News Today, summary, include:
$24 million to the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative to track changes in the living brain as older people transition from normal cognitive aging to amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI), in which individuals have a memory deficit but generally retain other cognitive abilities, and from MCI to Alzheimer’s disease.
A grant of more than $5.4 million to add 3,800 Alzheimer’s patients and an equal number of people free of the disease to a previously funded study by the Alzheimer’ Disease Genetics Consortium (ADGC), which aims to identify the additional risk factor genes for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. These huge datasets will allow scientists also to search for genes associated with a number of traits associated with Alzheimer’s, as well as for genes related to cognitive decline.
Another study, examining cognitive decline in older African-Americans will collect and analyze the DNA of 4,140 elderly African-Americans enrolled in NIA-funded aging studies already taking place in Chicago and Indianapolis. The study will assess the associations of over 900,000 genetic markers for such issues as stroke and high blood pressure.
Another $820,000 in Recovery Act funds will advance Alzheimer’s genetics research by developing methods for identifying combinations of genes that might influence age-related risk of AD.
There are more — some looking at drugs and exercise, some studying specific populations, many (including the above) examining a multiplicity of factors in the search for answers to the puzzles of the brain.
This space will be following the progress of them all — if I don’t forget.