By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The University of Mississippi Medical Center will lead a $26 million study involving four additional campuses and researchers from another five institutions to identify risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of cognitive decline.
“We’re the principal investigators, along with Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University – but they have to come to Mississippi to get their money,” Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said Monday in Tupelo. “It’s kind of neat; we like that.”
The grant from the National Institutes of Health makes UMMC the home campus for the research, which will be conducted largely at the medical center’s new Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center. Former Ambassador John N. Palmer, former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat and former Gov. William Winter are chairing a committee to raise $9 million for the center’s completion.
The NIH Alzheimer’s study will build on UMMC’s 20-year ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study, which investigated risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Dr. Thomas Mosley, UMMC professor of geriatric medicine, will be one of the lead researchers. He believes Alzheimer’s disease probably develops not from a single cause but from cumulative factors – likely including cardiovascular ones.
“Most studies of Alzheimer’s disease have focused on what the brain looks like at the end point of the disease, but we know that the brain begins to change long before symptoms occur, perhaps as early as middle age,” Mosley said. “What’s unique about this study is that it gives us the ability to look back in time, so to speak, to determine what factors from mid-life predict cognitive decline and dementia in late life.”
Combating Alzheimer’s and related dementias is an increasingly critical issue as the American population ages.
“Understanding the risk factors involved in this complex process may lead to new targets for treatment,” Mosley said. “It could also allow us to intervene at an earlier point with people who are at high risk for dementia, a time when preventative treatments may be most effective.”
Parts of the study will be conducted at Johns Hopkins, Wake Forest University, the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mosley’s team will include scientists from the Mayo Clinic, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas at Houston, Boston University and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.