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Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center success brings sixth consecutive five-year federal grant

IU School of Medicine • 8/22/16

INDIANAPOLIS — Federal officials have recognized the research impact of scientists and physicians working on Alzheimer’s disease at the Indiana University School of Medicine, awarding the school its sixth consecutive five-year grant for the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center.

The renewal brings $10.6 million in new funding, an increase of $1.5 million over the $9.1 million received when the center’s funding was last renewed in 2011.

“The renewal reflects the quality and broad range of translational research activities underway at the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center to increase the scientific understanding of the causes and biological mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” said center director Andrew J. Saykin, Psy.D., Raymond C. Beeler Professor of Radiology and Imaging Sciences and director of the IU Center for Neuroimaging.

“Research projects include analysis of genetic risk, early detection using advanced MRI and PET brain imaging, and treatment development through identification of novel therapeutic targets, as well as testing of new experimental medications and lifestyle interventions,” Dr. Saykin said.

Other major goals include training the next generation of Alzheimer’s researchers and clinical providers, and helping inform current patients and their caregivers about new developments in the field and available resources, Dr. Saykin said.

“The renewal of funding for the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center reflects our deep commitment to understanding and developing new therapies for a disease that will affect millions of people in the coming years,” said Jay L. Hess, M.D., Ph.D., M.H.S.A, dean of the IU School of Medicine and IU vice president for university clinical affairs.

“With the resources of Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center, we are able to bring together the many types of expertise – genomics, imaging, neurology, biostatistics, bench research and many more – that will be needed to solve the difficult problems that Alzheimer’s continues to pose for scientists, physicians, patients and caregivers,” said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., executive associate dean for research affairs at the IU School of Medicine and director of the IU Precision Health Initiative.

The center’s scientific momentum is reflected by about 60 research presentations by center faculty and trainees at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto in July. A dozen faculty members were invited to give oral presentations, chair research discussions, and lead major “plenary” sessions at the conference. Given the outstanding resources and engagement in scientific progress, the center, Dr. Saykin noted, is “well aligned” to support the primary goal of the National Plan for Alzheimer’s disease: Prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

In part, the budget increase reflects new initiatives since the previous renewal, notably creation of the Genetics, Biomarker, and Bioinformatics Core in 2014. That core, led by Tatiana Foroud, chair of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, boosted the center’s resources to unearth genetic differences associated with Alzheimer’s disease, to identify molecular signals pointing to those who might be at risk for the disease, and to analyze the vast amounts of data generated by such research.

Identifying those at risk for Alzheimer’s long before any symptoms appear has become one of the top research priorities at the center and in the field as a whole.

“We now have evidence that Alzheimer’s disease begins at least 20 years before the person comes into the doctor’s office with dementia. That’s transformative knowledge in the field, to which our center has contributed,” Dr. Saykin said. He added that “the long presymptomatic phase of disease provides an important time window to test disease modifying agents and lifestyle strategies.”

Founded in 1991, the Indiana center is among the nation’s oldest, having been continuously funded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. Thirty-eight faculty physicians and scientists, and 22 staff are affiliated with or employed by the center, which serves as a nexus for a large network of collaborators whose work is related to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementing illnesses.

The Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center is composed of eight areas of focus, or cores:

  • Administrative Core led by Dr. Saykin and Bradley Glazier, center administrator
  • Clinical Core led by Liana Apostolova, MD, Barbara and Peer Baekgaard Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease Research, with co-leaders Martin R. Farlow, M.D., professor of neurology, and Frederick W. Unverzagt, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry
  • Data Management and Statistics Core led by Sujuan Gao, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics
  • Neuropathology Core led by Bernardino Ghetti, M.D., Distinguished Professor, Chancellor’s Professor and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, with co-leader Adrian Oblak, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine
  • Outreach and Recruitment Core led by Mary G. Austrom, Ph.D., Wesley P. Martin Professor of Alzheimer’s Education, with co-leader Nicole Fowler, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine
  • Neuroimaging Core led by Dr. Saykin, with co-leader Shannon L. Risacher Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences
  • Genetics, Biomarker, and Bioinformatics Core led by Tatiana Foroud, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics
  • Research Education Component, led by Debomoy Lahiri, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and of medical and molecular genetics