USC’s bench is deep and its focus is broad when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease research.
In Paul Thompson’s lab, researchers interrogate a vast mine of brain images and DNA from around the world to glean information that would otherwise be impossible to pin down. Judy Pa explores how exercise and cognitive training, assisted by virtual reality, could delay cognitive decline. JC Chen wants to know if the dirty air we breathe steals our memory.
USC’s federal funding for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias reached $ 92 million in 2020, reflecting the university’s position as one of the leading centers for research on Alzheimer’s disease. ‘Alzheimer’s in the country. And that number, documented in the National Institutes of Health’s most recent Category Spending report, is just a slice. It does not include totals for multi-year active grants, or innovative projects funded by other sources such as the National Science Foundation or the Alzheimer’s Association.
USC’s all-star roster grows: Arthur Toga leads computing for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, the largest and longest-running biomarker discovery effort in Alzheimer’s disease research ‘Alzheimer’s, as well as GAAIN, which houses the largest collection of data on Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Berislav Zlokovic and Toga lead a project on vascular contributions to Alzheimer’s disease; Helena Chui, Toga, and Zlokovic head the Alzheimer’s Research Center at USC.
The growth in federal funding also demonstrates USC’s alignment with national research priorities. The NIH is the world’s largest public funder of biomedical research. In 2020, she distributed nearly $ 3 billion for projects dedicated to the disease that steals memory.
âMore than a third of our 2020 NIH Alzheimer’s funding supports USC’s work as a global research center,â said Ishwar Puri, vice president of research at USC. âUSC stores and queries data collected from patients around the world. We’ve created a nationwide clinical trials network and method for thousands of potential clinical trial participants before they show any symptoms.
More than a third of our 2020 NIH Alzheimer’s funding supports USC’s work as a global research center.
For example, in 2020, the NIH awarded $ 31 million to Paul Aisen, director of the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute, to continue coordinating a network of 35 clinical sites that will channel patients into clinical trials. The Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials Consortium is jointly led by Aisen, Reisa Sperling of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Ronald Petersen of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
In addition, the funding supports the institute’s recruitment of potential study participants 10 to 20 years before symptoms appear with a free online memory test that participants take at home every three months.
Top USC researchers continue to tackle new Alzheimer’s disease projects
In 2020, the NIH awarded USC researchers 94 separate grants, up from 32 in 2015. Professors funded last year include:
â¢ Jinkook Lee, who studies the interplay of lifestyle genes in the onset and progression of cognitive aging. Her work takes place in India, where around 4.1 million people suffer from dementia. Lee is a research professor of economics at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a senior economist at the university’s Center for Economic and Social Research.
â¢ Thompson, who heads an initiative called Artificial Intelligence for Alzheimer’s Disease, or AI4AD. The international effort is performing large-scale brain scans and genetic studies. Thompson also won a prestigious Zenith Fellows Award from the Alzheimer’s Association in 2020 to launch a global study of brain aging in 35 countries. Thompson is professor of ophthalmology, neurology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, radiology, psychiatry and engineering at the Keck School of Medicine at USC and associate director of USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute.
â¢ Pa, whose work involves what she calls âbrain gymnasticsâ, where her subjects exercise while performing cognitive exercises using virtual reality. Pa is Associate Professor at the Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the Keck School of Medicine and the Department of Neurology.
â¢ Michael Rafii, who studies Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome have a lifetime risk of dementia greater than 75% and constitute the world’s largest population of genetically determined Alzheimer’s disease. Rafii is Medical Director of the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute and Associate Professor of Neurology at the Keck School of Medicine.
â¢ Carol Prescott, who is studying how higher education is associated with preserved cognitive performance in old age and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Possible explanations include the direct protective effects of greater education and preserved ability or improved functioning due to increased cognitive complexity of work and leisure activities in more educated people. Prescott is Professor of Psychology and Gerontology at USC Dornsife.
Toga, professor of ophthalmology, neurology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, radiology, psychiatry and engineering at the Keck School of Medicine and director of the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging and USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, notes that USC’s broad engagement has resulted in a powerhouse in Alzheimer’s disease research, a leader in many areas.
âIn combination, our research programs in clinical trials, molecular and cellular research, and systems and imaging constitute a comprehensive and balanced effort,â said Toga. âTogether, these programs will help uncover and cure this devastating disease. It really is an exciting time. “
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