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NIH expands Alzheimer’s and related dementias centers research network

New North Carolina and Texas centers to enhance collaborative studies with diverse populations

Joe Balintfy, 301-496-1752, NIAPressTeam@mail.nih.gov

Older adult couple supporting Alzheimer's disease research.Research institutions in North Carolina and Texas are the latest to join an established, nationwide network of cutting-edge Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias centers funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Duke/University of North Carolina Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and the South Texas Alzheimer's Disease Center have each been awarded $14.8 million over five years to bolster a range of research areas, including early and midlife risk factors for Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and ways to understand and diminish the burden of these diseases on understudied groups, specifically Mexican-American Hispanics and Black/African Americans, which are among the fastest-growing older populations in the United States.

“NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers (ADRC) have been at the heart of progress in Alzheimer’s and related dementias research in the U.S. for more than three decades,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “Funding these two new research hubs underscores our ongoing commitment to finding effective preventions and treatments for a diverse range of individuals at risk for and living with these diseases.”

Enhanced national connections for communities and researchers

With these two new entities, there are now 33 ADRCs nationwide, plus four exploratory centers, that are accelerating research on effective Alzheimer’s and related dementias preventions, diagnostics, and treatments, and improving support for families and other caregivers.

“Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers bring together scientists and research participants with a wide range of research focus areas, within each center and across the network,” said Nina Silverberg, Ph.D., director of NIA’s ADRC program. “These two new centers will be important contributors as we continue to build momentum toward new research approaches to treatment and prevention as well as caregiving strategies, and importantly, toward inclusion of a diverse group of research volunteers reflective of those most affected by the disease.”

The new Duke/UNC ADRC represents a collaboration of leading researchers in aging and Alzheimer’s and related dementias at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This center will focus on identifying age-related changes across the lifespan that impact the development, progression, and experience of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The center will also identify how factors that arise in early and midlife contribute to racial, ethnic and geographic disparities in dementia.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley ADRC will harness its unique geographic location in South Texas — a region of approximately 5 million underserved Mexican Americans — to build connections with the community and enhance the diversity of data and biosamples available through the national network of ADRCs. These efforts will support researchers from multiple disciplines to conduct research to reduce the burden of Alzheimer’s and related dementias in Hispanics and will rapidly advance the science by sharing these resources broadly.

ADRCs are a backbone for Alzheimer’s and related dementias research

Since NIA established the network in 1984, ADRC scientists have helped advance research on many aspects of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, including:

  • Developing a better understanding of amyloid plaque and tau tangle formation, which are two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.
  • Characterizing abnormal proteins linked to multiple neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Distinguishing between cognitive changes that occur in normal aging from those that indicate a transition to dementia.
  • Exploring changes in the brain and body through the clinical stages of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
  • Developing novel biomarkers for the early detection of Alzheimer’s and related disorders.
  • Working with diverse populations aiming to ensure clinical studies include participants from a range of ages, races, and ethnicities.
  • Supporting vitally important brain donation programs that enable researchers to better understand how Alzheimer’s and related dementias affect the brain.
  • Sharing a large set of standardized data on thousands of research volunteers, made available to scientists around the world, to use to help better understand Alzheimer’s and other dementias and look for treatments.
  • Conducting clinical studies to discover new targets and potential treatments of Alzheimer’s and related disorders.

NIA ADRCs are congressionally designated NIH Centers of Excellence and support the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease research goal to develop effective treatment and prevention strategies by 2025. The centers share new research ideas and approaches as well as data (through the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center), biological samples (through the National Centralized Repository for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias) genetic information (through the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Consortium), therapeutic targets (through the Accelerating Medicines Partnership® Program for Alzheimer’s Disease — AMP®), and imaging and biomarkers with the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. ADRCs also help train the next generation of scientists in this field and develop innovative clinical research recruitment initiatives.

The two new ADRCs were funded by NIH grants P30AG066546 and P30AG072958.

NIA leads NIH’s systematic planning, development, and implementation of research milestones to achieve the goal of effectively treating and preventing Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The ADRC program and these new centers demonstrate efforts toward multiple milestones, such as 3.A, “Provide resources to make datasets from existing and legacy clinical research studies on AD and related dementias widely accessible,” and 1.I, “Assess epidemiology and mechanistic pathways of disparities in health burden of AD/ADRD.”

About the National Institute on Aging (NIA): NIA leads the U.S. federal government effort to conduct and support research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. Learn more about age-related cognitive change and neurodegenerative diseases via NIA’s Alzheimer's and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center website. Visit the main NIA website for information about a range of aging topics, in English and Spanish, and stay connected.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

ACCELERATING MEDICINES PARTNERSHIP and AMP are registered service marks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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