Government, Health Care, and Higher Education

University wins $5.67M grant for Alzheimer's study

September 16, 2015
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University wins $5.67M grant for Alzheimer's study
Hector Gonzalez. Courtesy MSU College of Human Medicine/Harley Seeley

A university has been awarded a $5.67-million grant from a federal agency to study the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease among Latinos to help delay or prevent the disease.

Studying thousands

The Michigan State University College of Human Medicine said last week that the five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging, or NIA, will fund its Study of Latinos — Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging.

Hector Gonzalez, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the college, is the study's principal investigator.

The goal of the study is to differentiate mild cognitive impairment symptoms from normal aging patterns and identify those signs while an individual is in their 50s or 60s, according to Gonzalez.

“Current thinking is it takes decades for Alzheimer’s disease to develop, so we are turning the clock back,” Gonzalez said. “We want to know why some people do (develop Alzheimer’s) and some don’t in the hope we can ultimately prevent or at least push back disease onset.”

With his team of scientists, Gonzalez plans to aggregate health data from close to 7,000 adults in the Bronx, Chicago, Miami and San Diego between the ages of 50 and 80 who might show signs of mild cognitive impairment.

The participants in the study will be selected from about 16,000 individuals who are involved in Gonzalez’s Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos project, which is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

By selecting individuals participating in the community health project, Gonzalez and his team will be able to leverage the data already collected containing genomic and cardiovascular risk factors, which may "hold the keys" to detecting onset signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

The impact

Gonzalez said preventing dementia will likely be cheaper and more effective than treating it once it has developed, particularly since there is no cure at this point.

“The economic cost will be unsustainable and the personal costs extremely difficult and potentially devastating,” Gonzalez said. “We hope that our work will help prevent or reduce the burden of Alzheimer’s disease among Latinos and ultimately all Americans.”

With both the U.S. population growing and the nation's Latino population growing, the MSU College of Human Medicine said the "implications of the study" could be an "important factor to the nation’s public health in the future."

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report in March projecting the size and composition of the U.S. population between 2014 and 2060, which indicates there will be roughly 400 million Americans by the year 2051.

By the year 2030, one in five Americans is anticipated to be 65 and older. In 2014, the Hispanic population comprised close to 17 percent of the U.S. population and by 2060, it is anticipated to comprise 29 percent of the overall population.

National collaborators

Throughout the course of the study, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Miami and San Diego State University will collect information. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will serve as a coordination center and aggregate all of the data collected.

Wayne State University, University of Washington and the University of Texas Health Science Center will also provide collaborative assistance on the project. 

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