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Florida’s Alzheimer’s research consortium awarded $15 million grant to focus on diverse populations

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The 1Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, or 1Florida ADRC, a University of Florida-organized consortium of leading research institutions aimed at making Alzheimer’s and related dementias treatable, preventable and one day curable, has received a five-year, $15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. The award will enable the consortium to continue and expand its work, with a heightened focus on further understanding dementias in diverse populations.

Started in 2015, the 1Florida ADRC uses state-of-the-art and emerging techniques to evaluate people with and without memory disorders and other thinking problems in research studies as part of a nationwide network of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers. The NIH-funded centers are working to combat the devastating neurodegenerative disorder, which affects an estimated 560,000 Floridians, about 10 percent of all Americans with the disease. The 1Florida ADRC is a collaboration of UF, Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.

In the first funding cycle from 2015 to this year, about 60 percent of the 1Florida ADRC’s research participants were Hispanic, a factor that distinguishes the 1Florida ADRC from the more than 30 other such centers in the country, said Todd Golde, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator of the 1Florida ADRC and director of UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute. The vast majority of published data on Alzheimer’s disease has studied white people of European ancestry, a factor that could inaccurately skew conclusions about incidence, progression and risk factors, he said.

“We’re really doubling down on our focus on diversity and how Alzheimer’s and related dementias manifest in diverse populations,” Golde said. “In this new funding cycle, we’d like to be able to leverage the advances made by the field in understanding Alzheimer’s to determine whether we see the same progression of symptoms and have the same usefulness of biomarkers in people who are African American or Hispanic.”

The 1Florida ADRC’s research and collaborations involve more than 40 faculty members from the five Florida institutions. The research and clinical strength, collegiality and diversity of the investigators across the member institutions has been a key to success and positioned the consortium for renewal, Golde said. Going forward, the clinical component of the research studies will expand to follow some 600 participants at UF, Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach and the University of Miami, with a focus on recruiting as diverse a study group as possible.

Advances made under the 1Florida ADRC’s original award were in part supported by funding from the state of Florida, which made investments that support Alzheimer’s disease research and the memory disorders clinics at UF, Mount Sinai and the University of Miami.

With general population growth, the state of Florida is expected to see the number of Alzheimer’s cases more than double in the next 30 years.

“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias pose an enormous challenge for affected individuals, their families and caregivers, and our state as a whole,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We are proud to lead the 1Florida ADRC and to work together with these prestigious institutions toward advancing diagnosis and treatment of memory disorders and creating a new reality for sufferers of these devastating diseases.”

Current treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease include several classes of drugs designed to enhance memory. While in some people these drugs temporarily improve cognitive function and memory, they do not modify the disease course, Golde said.

The goal of the 1Florida ADRC is to track a range of participants, from those considered normal to those with varying degrees of cognitive impairment, over many years’ time, analyzing fluids such as blood and imaging biomarkers to study their trajectories and understand predictors and factors that influence rates of progression.

For researchers working to combat Alzheimer’s disease, this next chapter for the 1Florida ADRC offers the prospect of real progress and change.

Glenn Smith, Ph.D., who co-leads the research arm of the 1Florida ADRC, said they will combine the new NIH funding with state and local resources to accomplish many goals.

“Our overarching goal is to change the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s-related dementias to a new reality in which they are more quickly and accurately diagnosed, more effectively treated and ultimately prevented or cured,” said Smith, chair of the department of clinical and health psychology in UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Under the grant renewal, Smith will lead a significant new component, the AlzSTARS program. This program will select and train new investigators to address the problems of health disparities in Alzheimer’s and related disorders.

The need for more clinical investigators cannot be overstated, said Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., interim dean of the UF College of Medicine.

“The 1Florida ADRC is leading the way in training the next generation of clinicians and researchers in Florida who will help us better understand, identify, prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” Tyndall said.

At UF, the 1Florida ADRC also will partner with the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health to investigate atypical dementias, such as dementia in the setting of Parkinson’s disease. As a destination medical center for movement disorders, UF has specialists with long-standing expertise in cognitive dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease.

Steven T. DeKosky, M.D., deputy director of the McKnight Brain Institute and a researcher in the ADRC, said given the diversity of the state of Florida’s population, this more inclusive strategy regarding both race and types of dementia is especially important to residents of Florida.

“This award recognizes the excellent basic and clinical research being done at the University of Florida and by our colleagues at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach and the University of Miami, as well as collaborators at FIU and FAU,” DeKosky said. “We’re excited to have these new resources to continue to expand our studies on new treatments and preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”

Clinical and neuropathological research data collected by ADRCs nationwide, including the 1Florida ADRC, may be accessed by partner institutions through the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center, which maintains a large relational database.

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Michelle Jaffee
Science Writer

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