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Researchers Nab $40.5M NIH Grant to Study Alzheimer's Risk in Asian Americans, Canadians

NEW YORK – Penn Medicine on Tuesday said its researchers, along with investigators at 15 other institutions in the US and Canada, are using a $40.5 million government grant to collect data on genetic and lifestyle factors that may contribute to the risk of Alzheimer's disease in individuals of Asian ancestry.

The Asian Cohort for Alzheimer's Disease (ACAD) study will be supported by a grant from the US National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging and is led by principal investigators at Penn Medicine, Boston University's Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Southern California. The project represents the first effort to build an Alzheimer's disease genetics cohort for Canadians and Americans of Asian ancestry. 

"While Asians are the fastest growing minority in both the US and Canada, they are disproportionately underrepresented in Alzheimer's disease research," Li-San Wang, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and a principal investigator of ACAD, said in a statement.

People with Asian ancestry tend to comprise less than 3 percent of national datasets and clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease, according to Penn Medicine. That makes it difficult to determine whether the latest research findings are applicable to individuals of Asian descent.

During a pilot phase of the ACAD project, funded through an NIA grant awarded in 2020, more than 1,800 people expressed interest in joining the study. With the new grant, investigators are aiming to enroll over five years at least 5,000 adults with and without cognitive issues who are at least 60 years old and who have Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese ancestry.

Participants will be able to enroll at nine sites, where they will provide a saliva sample, complete a questionnaire on lifestyle factors and demographics, undergo a cognitive assessment, and have the option of donating a blood sample.

Investigators will analyze participants' genetic data to identify risk variants and compare the findings to other populations in North America and Asia. They hope to ultimately develop blood biomarker benchmarks and a polygenic risk score for estimating Alzheimer's risk in Americans and Canadians of Asian descent.

The researchers further plan to follow participants as they age to track disease progression, and they will examine nongenetic biomarkers and lifestyle information to identify other factors that may be contributing to Alzheimer's disease development.