The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) is the largest and most influential international meeting dedicated to advancing dementia science. Each year, AAIC convenes the world’s leading basic science and clinical researchers, next-generation investigators, clinicians and the care research community to share research discoveries that’ll lead to methods of prevention and treatment and improvements in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Access highlights from other days here.
Florida Researcher Spotlight
Katrina Celis, from the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, presented Basic Science and Pathogenesis: Molecular and Cell Biology.
Dr. Katrina Celis’ connection to Alzheimer’s disease began with her grandmother’s diagnosis. She has been seeking answers about the disease ever since and hopes to give back to the Hispanic community by advancing dementia research.
Gregory Day, from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, presented Dissecting the Neuropathological Contributors to Rapidly Progressive Dementia.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I was introduced to impactful and motivated mentors who were already active in this space while completing Neurology residency in Toronto, Canada (great researchers and clinicians, including Drs. Sandra Black, Morris Freeman, David Tang-Wai, Tiffany Chow, and Carmela Tartaglia). Following residency training I moved to Washington University in Saint Louis to complete a fellowship in memory and aging with Dr. John C Morris and so many other greats in the field. This is where things really took off. I had the opportunity to see more and more patients with AD, which really highlighted the truth in the Alzheimer’s Association saying that “If you’ve seen one patient with Alzheimer disease, you’ve seen one patient with Alzheimer disease”. I became intrigued by the variability and variety in the clinical presentation, and increasingly interested in deciphering the underlying changes in the brain (and the patient) that accounted for that variability. These early experiences have continued to shape my research progress and clinical practice since moving to Mayo Clinic in 2020. My interest has been further strengthened through engagement with several national / international projects that promise to further inform our understanding of this unique disease, including ADNI, LEADS, and DIAN; and through emergent work to improve recruitment and engagement of increasingly diverse communities within the Jacksonville area.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? Although I didn’t start down this path with a deeply personal connection, the opportunity to get to know my patients, research participants, and their family members and caregivers has made this an increasingly personal pursuit. We are increasingly hard-pressed to find a family untouched by this disease. Working towards a cure and working to advance care are incredibly worthy pursuits; I’m grateful for the opportunity to join the fight and to work alongside such a remarkably talented team at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? This work primarily focused on efforts in our cohorts with rapidly progressive dementia. This includes patients with rapidly progressive Alzheimer’s (onset of first symptom to near-complete incapacitation <2 years). This is a relatively rare subset of patients, accounting for <4% of all dementia presentations. Essentially my colleagues and I hope to leverage our findings in these rare patients to understand the drivers of Alzheimer’s (and related dementias), realizing that the patient- and disease-specific factors that lead to rapid progressive dementia may inform future treatments that will also apply to patients with more common typically progressive forms of dementia. These two projects use different datasets / sources to work towards this purpose.
The first focuses on our clinical cohort—patients presenting to the hospital or our outpatient clinics with rapidly progressive dementia. We review the clinical features that support specific diagnoses, while honing in on signs and findings on common tests that might identify patients with non-neurodegenerative potentially-treatable causes of rapidly progressive dementia.
The second project utilizes the Mayo Clinic Brain Bank to consider the neuropathological contributors to rapidly progressive dementia. I continue to believe that this valuable resource—representing the final contribution to research of so many patients—may be the most valuable resource of all for informing what changes in the brain result in rapidly progressive AD and related neurodegenerative dementing illnesses.
Jun Min Koay, from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, presented The Learning of Memory Support System in Individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? As a clinical neuropsychology fellow at Mayo Clinic Florida, I am involved in the Healthy Action to Benefit Independence & Thinking (HABIT) program. It is a 10-day multi-component program for individuals living with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and their partners. My time working in this program has allowed me to witness how MCI has impacted the participant’s functioning, quality of life, and their relationships with their partners. I can’t help but wonder how the HABIT program can be improved to better assist and support our participants. In this regard, I worked with Dr. Melanie Chandler on a project examining the impacts of different subtypes of cognitive impairment on the learning of a memory support system taught in the HABIT program. We will be presenting our finding in the upcoming Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? My late grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia when I was still in high school. I remember very clearly how changes in her cognition and behaviors have impacted the dynamics of my family and how stressful it was to provide care to her while juggling with other life responsibilities. This was about 15 years ago, and my family and I had very limited knowledge about Alzheimer’s dementia. Looking back, I wished I knew more about the disease, such as what are the early symptoms and what can the family do to support the patient. I believe such knowledge would have helped my family and I to be better prepared for providing care to my late grandmother. Now, as a clinician, it is my goal to provide the best care and education in supporting my patients and their families throughout this challenging journey.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? No one-size-fits-all! Mild cognitive impairment often manifests in different ways for different individuals. Some people may have a more prominent amnestic feature while others may experience a decline in their ability to concentrate and problem solve. Although a memory support system, such as using a calendar/planner, may generally benefit individuals with MCI, my research has shown that individuals with more than just memory impairment might have a harder time learning how to use a calendar. Therefore, it is important for clinicians and caregivers to tailor their treatment and caregiving approach accordingly, in order to facilitate the different learning efficiency among different patients and to maximize their treatment benefit.
Alberto Ramos, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, presented Sleep, self-reported ocular health, and cognition in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) and SOL-Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging (SOL-INCA).
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I am a sleep neurologist, who takes care of patients with sleep apnea and insomnia among other sleep disorders. I noticed that memory difficulties, changes in mood, difficulties with judgment are very common complaints in people with sleep disorders and many patients think this could be the start of a neurodegenerative disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease. This sparked my curiosity and I started to explore questions about sleep health and brain health in epidemiological or population-based studies, such as the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos and the Northern Manhattan study. We quickly observed that a myriad of sleep disturbances can lead to cognitive difficulties or decrease performance in mental abilities, more so in minority populations, who seem to have a higher burden of both dementia and sleep disorders.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? I think by now we all have a connection with the disease. I don’t a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but many of my good friends and extended family have parents with the disease. As a neurologist, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as an advisor, communicator or just a good listener to many of them. We also know that Alzheimer’s disease and Related Dementias, along with COVID, are the diseases of the 21st century. Similarly, I think that lack of sleep is the risk factor of the 21st century and we have come to recognize how sleep is intertwined with proper brain health.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? I think our findings allow us to further recognize how sleep (or the lack of it) contributes to poor brain health. This research will help us identify and determine the characteristics of people with both visual problems (which tend to lead to poor sleep), and specific sleep disorders that may be at risk for worsening of their mental (cognitive) processes over time. More so in vulnerable individuals from Hispanic/Latino background, who tend to be underrepresented in these types of studies. Hence, providing a glimpse of how precision medicine could address health disparities in Alzheimer’s among Hispanic/Latinos.
Hariom Yadav, from the University of South Florida, presented Protection of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease progression by a human origin-probiotic biotherapy.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? As my parents are growing older and we hear many debilitating stories from our friends whose parents experience Alzheimer’s debilitating effects. This motivates me every day to do something for mitigating the crisis of Alzheimer’s in our parental generation, as well as create hope for our generation, who is progressing towards that stage.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? Our research is focused on how microbiome impact the gut-brain axis and whether improving gut health can improve brain functions and mitigate Alzheimer’s. Our research is highly exciting and significant, because emerging research (including ours) shows that microbiome can help us to determine the risk several years before dementia development, as well as modulating microbiome can prevent, delay and improve Alzheimer’s pathology. Based on this knowledge we can create awareness for healthy eating habits most importantly what to feed our bugs which in turn will feed to us and to our brain. The research we are going to present in AAIC meeting is an example in which we developed a probiotics cocktail which reduces Alzheimer’s pathology by improving gut health.
National Dementia Research News
Alzheimer’s Association Global Workgroup Releases Recommendations About Use of Alzheimer’s “Blood Tests” Alzheimer’s disease blood biomarkers (BBMs) may revolutionize the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in the future, but are not yet ready for widespread use, according to a newly-published article by leading international clinicians and researchers convened by the Alzheimer’s Association®. At the same time, they are important and valuable for current research trials and cautious initial use in specialized memory clinics. Read more.
Persistent Loss of Smell Due to COVID-19 Closely Connected to Long-Lasting Cognitive Problems New insights into factors that may predict, increase or protect against the impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic on memory and thinking skills were revealed by multiple studies reported today. Read more.
Seven Researchers Honored for Scientific Achievements and Contributions to the Dementia Field at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference Read more.
Get the latest dementia science and research news in the palm of your hand with the Alzheimer’s Association Science Hub app. Learn more at alz.org/sciencehub.