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Sept. 10, 2015

$5.67M grant helps researchers identify early signs of Alzheimer’s

A new Michigan State University study, aimed at identifying early signs of Alzheimer’s disease among Latinos and Hispanics, could help delay or even prevent its onset thanks to a $5.67 million, 5-year grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“Current thinking is it takes decades for Alzheimer’s disease to develop, so we are turning the clock back,” said Hector M. González, the principal investigator of the Study of Latinos – Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging. “The goal is to find signs in your 50s or 60s. We want to know why some people do (develop Alzheimer’s) and some don’t in the hope that we can ultimately prevent or at least push back disease onset.”

González, who is also an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the College of Human Medicine, and his team of scientists, will gather health data from nearly 7,000 middle-aged and older adults in the Bronx, Chicago, Miami and San Diego. The research will include diverse Hispanics and Latinos between the ages of 50 and 80 years old who may show signs of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, which is thought to be an early form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Since it’s estimated that nearly one-third of the U.S. population will be of Hispanic or Latino origin by 2050, the implications of the study, also referred to as SOL-INCA, could prove to be an important factor to the nation’s public health in the future.

A major goal is to differentiate mild cognitive impairment from normal aging. Not all MCI converts to Alzheimer’s disease, González said, and knowing what makes the difference may be the key to unlocking new answers to an important public health problem.

The study is related to work González has done as principal investigator for the Neurocognitive Reading Center portion of the landmark Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, or HCHS/SOL, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Participants in the current research project will be selected from more than 16,000 individuals who are already participating in the HCHS/SOL study. That will allow González and his team to draw on the rich data already collected containing detailed genomic and cardiovascular risk factors, which may hold the keys to detecting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Preventing dementia likely will be cheaper and more effective than treating it once it has developed, González said, particularly since currently there is no cure.

“The economic cost will be unsustainable and the personal costs extremely difficult and potentially devastating,” he said. “We hope that our work will help prevent or reduce the burden of Alzheimer’s disease among Latinos and ultimately all Americans.”

Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Miami and San Diego State University will collect the information, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will function as the coordinating center, pulling together all of the data. Other collaborators on the project also include scientists from Wayne State University, University of Washington and University of Texas Health Science Center.

Click here for Spanish translation.

By: Geri Kelley