Government, Health Care, and Higher Education

Colleges launch Alzheimer's center

August 16, 2016
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Courtesy MSU College of Human Medicine

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has awarded $9 million to three Michigan universities for the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center, which launched Monday, to study the disease and related dementias.

The Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center, or ADCC, will support researchers and clinicians from the University of Michigan, where the center will be based, as well as the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids and Wayne State University.

The funding will be doled out over the course of the next five years.

The Michigan ADCC is one of nearly 30 NIH-funded Alzheimer’s disease centers across the nation and the only one that links three major research universities.

“This is a remarkable opportunity to leverage the combined clinical, research and educational expertise of our three universities to tackle this devastating disease,” said Scott Counts, Ph.D., associate professor of translational science and molecular medicine, MSU College of Human Medicine.

Dr. Henry Paulson, U-M neurologist, will serve as director of the ADCC.

Dementia

More than five-million Americans 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease and another several million have other forms of dementia, including frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia and vascular dementia.

No disease-slowing therapies exist for any dementia.

Mission

Paulson said the goal of the ADCC is to “understand disease processes and develop better treatments for the various dementias.”

The ADCC will support a wide range of studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, while also educating scientists, health care professionals and the public on the causes and treatment of dementias.

“Unlike a typical doctor’s office, the center has all the pieces in place to help a patient and family, including the opportunity to participate in clinical research to find disease modifying agents,” Paulson said. “We’re working on multiple fronts to understand and treat this disease.”

The collaboration between the research universities and strong community outreach represent "an enormous opportunity for the citizens of Michigan to benefit directly, as they struggle to understand and intervene with persons suffering with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Peter Lichtenberg, director of the Institute of Gerontology at WSU and ADCC co-core leader for training.

Research focus

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by two kinds of accumulated protein deposits: plaques and tangles. Much of the present research in the field investigates beta-amyloid, the protein that forms the plaques.

The Michigan ADCC will take a different focus.

“We’ll emphasize studies of the many non-amyloid factors contributing to disease, because beta-amyloid, though unquestionably important in Alzheimer’s, is already getting considerable attention,” Paulson said.

Researchers will also investigate strong links between dementia and other illnesses, such as cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic disorders and depression.

Once funding begins, they’ll be able to more deeply integrate with geriatrics, movement disorders and other programs across the three universities to develop new lines of research, in some cases supported by pilot project funding.

As one example, the team is working with the WSU Healthier Black Elders Center to advance understanding of dementia in under-represented minorities.

“To advance Alzheimer’s research, we need to integrate data coming from various platforms, including clinical, genetics, biomarkers and imaging data,” said Hiroko Dodge, U-M associate professor of neurology, who’s leading the ADCC data management and statistical core.

Dodge said the center will provide “unique and high-impact science.”

Developing professionals

The ADCC will also foster career development for junior investigators, with a goal of preparing “the next generation of experts” in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

ADCC investigators at all three universities will also come together annually for a research symposium to facilitate collaboration and learn about each other’s latest discoveries.

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