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NIH Awards $26M to Five Academic Medical Centers for Alzheimer's Study

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health has awarded a total $26 million to five academic medical institutions, led by the University of Mississippi Medical Center, toward a large-scale study designed to examine the role that vascular risk factors experienced during middle age — such as hypertension, diabetes, and lifestyle – play into Alzheimer's disease and related forms of cognitive decline.

The ARIC Neurocognitive Study will employ brain imaging and new genetic technologies to gather information from thousands of patients — in addition to data collected through the past two decades by the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study into the risk factors associated with heart disease and stroke.

"In the new study, we will attempt to identify genomic regions containing susceptibility loci for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and dementia using 1 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) spanning the genome," Thomas Mosley, director of UMMC's Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center, and one of the new study's lead investigators, told GenomeWeb Daily News yesterday.

The significant SNPs, Mosley said, will be followed up with more detailed fine mapping and studies to determine their functional implications. The genetic work in ARIC is being led by Eric Boerwinkle, who heads the Human Genetics Center at the University of Texas Houston.

"Because of the size of the ARIC cohort and prior data on cognitive functioning in ARIC spanning 20+ years, we will also apply the genome-wide association strategy to search for genes that contribute to cognitive change in normal aging," added Mosley, professor of medicine (geriatrics) and Guyton Distinguished Professor at UMMC.

He said since replication will be key in determining the veracity of results, researchers in the ARIC Neurocognitive Study will partner with two large studies that will serve as replication cohorts for this effort — the Framingham Heart Study led by collaborators at Boston University, and the Rotterdam study led by collaborators at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands.

UMMC will receive the largest portion of the grant, $9 million. Among the other four, Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will receive about $4.6 million each; the University of Minnesota, about $4.3 million; and Wake Forest University, about $3.6 million.

UMMC's portion of the grant will fund a team led by Mosley that includes scientists from the Mayo Clinic, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas at Houston, Boston University, and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

The ARIC Neurocognitive Study will be co-funded by three NIH institutes: lead sponsor National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and the National Eye Institute.

The original ARIC study followed approximately 16,000 participants for more than 20 years, starting in middle age, who underwent a series of medical examinations for diseases and factors including heart disease, hypertension, and cognitive function. Participants include about 4,000 African Americans from Jackson, Miss., and another 4,000 residents of Minnesota.

The new study is designed to examine the role of ethnic differences in relative risk for dementia, following recent research that found African Americans may have a twofold or greater risk for Alzheimer's compared to whites.

UMMC has launched a capital campaign to raise $8.9 million for the MIND Center. In a statement released by UMMC, Mosley said he plans to recruit additional investigators to expand research in brain aging and dementia as the center develops.

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