On Day Three of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), we heard from more researchers at institutions across Florida who are sharing their research discoveries that will 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
Bryan Alava, from the University of Florida in Gainesville, presented Grip Strength as a Potential Biomarker for Insoluble Tau Accumulation.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I became involved in Alzheimer’s research as a graduate student at the University of Florida with Dr. Jose Abisambra and Dr. Karyn Esser.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? I have a close familial connection to the disease and became passionate about getting involved in the research.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? My research is on skeletal muscle in Alzheimer’s disease. Since our muscles are highly metabolic and endocrine organs, they have the potential to impact the environment our brains exists in. Healthy muscles help us move and improve our quality of life, and it is important to preserve that in Alzheimer’s disease patients
Hariom Yadav, from the University of South Florida, presented Protection of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease progression by a human origin-probiotic biotherapy this past Monday.
We were able to catch up with him this morning to talk about his research on gut health and how it can impact Alzheimer’s and brain health.
Julian Dallmeier, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, presented Negative Correlation of Corpora Amylacea with pTau in the Hippocampus of People with AD.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? My interest in Alzheimer’s disease research was born from a personal connection to the disease. I began working on Alzheimer’s research when I began my doctoral training at the University of Miami as a PhD student in 2019. I joined the Brain Endowment Bank at UM under the mentorship of the director, Dr. William Scott, where we developed an interdisciplinary research project evaluating resistance mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? I was first exposed to Alzheimer’s disease at a very young age when my grandfather developed severe disease over the course of my childhood. Unfortunately, his disease progressed rapidly and I was never really able to get to know him before the dementia progressed. Witnessing the tragic effects that his disease progression had on my family was a major factor that ignited my interest in Alzheimer’s research.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important This research explores the relationship between corpora amylacea and pTau in human brain tissue. Corpora amylacea act like trash cans that collect and dispose of cellular waste. Phospho-tau or pTau aggregates on the other hand, are one of the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and are strongly associated with the memory deficits seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients. We believe that corpora amylacea play a protective role in Alzheimer’s disease by slowing the buildup of toxic pTau aggregates in the brain. This is important because it identifies a potential target for biomarkers and therapeutic interventions by enhancing one of the brains natural waste disposal systems.
Christian Camargo, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, presented Reducing the Effects of Aging on Cognition with Therapeutic Intervention of an Oral multi-Nutrient combination (REACTION): Study Design and Baseline Results.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? As an undergraduate, I studied Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. This education afforded me unique opportunities to begin getting involved in memory related laboratory research from an early age, especially at the cellular level. It set up a natural interest and trajectory for me to be guided towards understanding not just how memory works, but how diseases and disorders of memory and cognition affect patients? Therefore, when I became a Neurologist and ultimately specialized in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, a career in Alzheimer’s and dementia research was a rather natural evolution of my earlier interests.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? While I don’t have any family members or relatives with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, my personal connection to the disease is with the strong connections I form with my patients and their families, including their unique struggles. Being a first generation Mexican-American practicing in a heavily Hispanic area, I feel uniquely positioned linguistically and culturally to help my patients in ways other providers may not be able to anticipate. It creates a sense of relatability that helps motivate me to consider all aspects of patient care, not just medications and MRIs, and remember to account for the impact on the patient’s family as well.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? Research allows us to ask scientific questions that enable us to learn more about and understand Alzheimer’s and related dementias. What’s important to remember is that there are many aspects of this disease that can always be expanded upon: knowing the causes, affected populations, potential therapies, how to reduce direct and indirect costs, and so many more. The more we can understand a process, the more we can control it. Research is the process of creating understanding through asking questions. Managing a disease process is learning to control it. Therefore, the key to definitive Alzheimer’s management is research.
Lilah Besser, also from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, presented Neighborhood greenspace as a social determinant of health and how associations with brain health outcomes may differ by race/ethnicity.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I was on the hunt for a position in the field of epidemiology or clinical research when moving to Seattle, and was fortunate to find a Research Scientist position at University of Washington’s National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center. I worked there for about seven years and during that time finished my PhD research on the topic of the neighborhood built environment and cognition, with the goal of pursuing an academic career focused neighborhood environments and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia prevention.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? My grandmother had dementia (although I am not sure the etiology was ever properly diagnosed), and that certainly helps drive my interest and passion for studying Alzheimer’s disease.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? My research centers on greenspaces such as parks and other neighborhood built environments because they are social determinants of health that impact many aspects of our health and quality of life, from childhood through older adulthood. Built environments can influence our health behaviors such as physical activity and healthy diets, our mental health, and environmental exposures such as reduced exposure to air pollutants. These positive behaviors and exposures have been associated with slower cognitive decline and reduced risk of dementia in prior studies. Thus, health promoting built environments may serve as population-level interventions to help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Tanisha Hill-Jarrett, from University of South Florida in Tampa and Global Brain Health Institute at University of California San Francisco presented Discrimination Predicts Cognitive Concerns Among Black Americans: Examining the Role of Mood, Social Support, and Social Network.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I became involved in Alzheimer’s disease research through my interest in health disparities and desire to serve my community. Black and Latinx persons have 1.5 – 2 times higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and genes or a person’s biological makeup do not solely account for this risk. I was interested in contributing to the field’s understanding of how systemic and structural factors, like racism, was created to impact Black and other minoritized groups’ access to things like quality medical care, education, and safe living conditions. Access to these resources is critical as it shapes how a person’s brain ages and ultimately impacts the likelihood of developing a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? While I have been fortunate that none of my immediate family has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease, anything that impacts people I am in community with is personal. As a clinical neuropsychologist and a researcher, I see firsthand the toll it takes on the person living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families. The changes that occur are devastating. Beyond understanding factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in Black and minoritized communities, I seek to identify factors that promote brain health and wellness. I strive to make this information accessible to my community and to deliver it in a way that resonates. I also consider the community a research collaborator and look to them to guide the research questions as they are the ones with the lived experience. Throughout my time working in this space, I recognize that this co-creation of knowledge with the community is essential to truly advancing the field.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? Racism impacts brain health through multiple mechanisms and throughout a person’s life course as they get older, thereby influencing risk for developing neurodegenerative disease. This research is critical as identifying and naming the root causes of why Black and Latinx individuals are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease is the key to developing interventions and creating public policy that reduces the disease burden. For instance, demonstrating that racist housing practices like redlining and residential segregation impacts access to resources like grocery stores with nutritious foods—and showing that having nutritious food is necessary for good brain health – is important to identifying points of intervention. On an interpersonal level, we must take deliberate action to counter racism in our everyday environments. We must also use research to guide and develop public policy strategies around ways to improve the cognitive and brain health of those most affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and to combat systemic barriers like racism that interferes with the ability to maintain wellness and cognitive health.
Pedro Mena, from the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics and the University of Miami, presented The Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project Follow Up Study (ADSP-FUS): increasing ethnic diversity in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) genetics research.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? After graduating as a foreign medical doctor, my first job opportunity was as a research assistant in Alzheimer’s disease research. This helped me understand better from an early stage the initial signs of memory and functional problems.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? I do. At the beginning of my professional career, each participant I was evaluating or interacting with was always thinking of giving them much care such as if it would have been one of my parents. Later, after working for several years in the field, my father started having memory problems and was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This made me be more dedicated to my job helping as much as possible to fight against this devastating disease.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important?
Having the ability of doing Whole Genome Sequencing of DNA samples with ancestral diversity of cohorts with Alzheimer’s/Dementia participants and healthy unaffecteds is extremely important. This type of research is focused on identifying genetic risk and protective variants for Alzheimer’s Disease across all populations in the hope of developing new treatments.
Hillary Rouse, from SiteRx and the University of South Florida in Tampa, presented Impact of Mild Behavioral Impairment and Mild Cognitive Impairment on Risk for Dementia.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I was involved in the care of my grandmother with Alzheimer’s. When we were no longer able to care for her at home, I began working at the nursing home she was a resident at. I immediately knew that I wanted to continue to work in this field so when I started college, I pursued an education that helped me to develop my knowledge about this disease. Through my program, I obtained an internship at an Alzheimer’s disease research center, and I have been involved in this research ever since.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? Yes, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when I was young, and she is the reason why I decided to pursue a career that focuses on advancing the research for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important?Criteria for mild behavioral impairment, or the presence of persistent behavioral and psychiatric symptoms in late life, was recently developed by Dr. Zahinoor Ismail and colleagues. This study helps to support the development of this criteria and suggests that these changes are important to our understanding of the trajectory of decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
I think this research is important to the field because we are now finding that it isn’t just cognitive changes that are potentially early indicators for this disease, but also behavioral and psychiatric changes. I believe that continuing to improve our ability to identify people who are at greatest risk for dementia is essential to helping to improve outcomes and quality of life for people as this allows us to implement interventions in a period where it is critical to do so.
The results of the study suggest that the presence of mild behavioral impairment, or late-life behavioral and psychiatric symptoms that are atypical of one’s past, are early indicators/ risk factors for dementia. The risk for what type of dementia, however, differs based on when these symptoms begin to emerge in relation to cognitive changes. If these symptoms are present before any cognitive impairment, then it is more likely that one will be diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If they emerge when someone has cognitive impairment, they are at a greater risk again for Alzheimer’s disease, but also dementia with Lewy bodies. Overall, these results support the idea that regardless of if one is experiencing changes in cognition or not, if individuals meet criteria for mild behavioral impairment they are at an increased risk of developing dementia in the future.
Kevin Ramdas, from Longeveron Inc. in Miami, presented The Effects of Multiple Doses of Lomecel-B, Longeveron’ s Cell-based Therapy, on Alzheimer’s disease: Study Design and Rationale of this Phase 2a Multi- center Clinical trial.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I joined Longeveron in 2019 and immediately became involved in our Phase 1 clinical research trial. I was able to meet leading physicians, key opinion leaders and advocates in the field. I attended Alzheimer’s meetings around the country and learned the current state of the disease and what the future promises. We are currently enrolling in our Phase 2 clinical trial.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? My personal connection to the disease is my work on a daily basis to search for treatment via clinical trials. Leading a Phase 2 clinical trial in Alzheimer’s disease really puts me on the forefront of disease in the search for a cure. The United States currently has over 5 million Alzheimer’s patients and there are over 24 million in the world with the expectation of this number doubling by 2050 if we don’t find a solution.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? Finding a cure for this disease can change the landscape of neurology and cognitive impairment as whole. The devastating affect to the patients and burden to caregivers and the health industry is immense. This is especially important in a field that has not had a significant treatment full approved and widely accepted by treating physicians and institutions in close to two decades.
Adam Woods, from University of Florida Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory in Gainesville, presented Augmenting cognitive training in older adults with transcranial direct current stimulation: Initial results from the Phase III ACT trial and new directions.
National Dementia Research News
Alzheimer’s Association Statement on New Clinical Trial Results Reported at AAIC 2022 Results from a variety of clinical trials addressing multiple aspects of the disease. Read more.
Lower Socioeconomic Status in Childhood, Persistent Low Wages Linked to Risk for Dementia and Faster Memory Decline Read more.
17 Recommendations for Researchers to Better Communicate with Study Participants When Trials End Early Participants in clinical trials can feel abandoned and adrift when their studies end early and they are the last to be informed, or they hear about it first from news or social media. 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.