PA Health Awards $11.3 million to Alzheimer’s Disease Grant Recipients 

The Department of Health has awarded $11.3 million in grants to three recipients focused on Alzheimer’s disease research. The Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) program awards research grants through a Request for Application (RFA) with the intent to fund Collaborative Research on Alzheimer’s disease.

The Department has awarded the 2019-2020 CURE program funds to:

  • University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Karl Herrup, PhD, for the study on the Functional Interpretation of Alzheimer’s Loci Across Cell Types, Ages and DNA Damage;
  • Temple University’s Silvia Fossati, PhD, for the study on Vascular Contributions to Mechanisms and Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease; and
  • The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania’s David Wolk, MD, for Aging Brain Cohort Dedicated to Diversity Study.

“Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of death in Pennsylvania, which is why it is so important that we continue to learn about this disease through research and education,” Acting Secretary Beam said. “The department congratulates Dr. Herrup, Dr. Fossati and Dr. Wolk on receiving these funds through the CURE grant. We look forward to the research outcomes that will provide important new insights into Alzheimer’s disease and move us closer to the prevention of this disease that impacts so many Pennsylvanians and their families.”

Dr. Herrup will receive $3,965,632 for research in the Alzheimer’s Genetics Interpretation through Neuropathology and Genomics (AGING) program that will identify gene variants related to Alzheimer’s Disease and regulate the endophenotypes of specific cells or overall brain structure. This work will provide fresh insight into how genes and gene networks function to increase disease risk. The complete plan also involves the creation of new datasets, pipelines and visualization tools that will benefit Alzheimer’s Disease researchers throughout Pennsylvania and beyond through dissemination through their Supercomputing Center. The results of this effort will better position the next generation of preventive and therapeutic treatments.

Dr. Fossati will receive $3,822,700 for research that will address whether the presence of cardiovascular risk factors affects a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. The research will use cell and animal models to characterize the effect of cardiovascular risk factors on mitochondrial, neurovascular unit and blood-brain barrier integrity, and how they influence a wide range of neurological changes in Alzheimer’s Disease mice. They will test the ability of FDA-approved carbonic anhydrase inhibitors in counteracting these effects. Then they will determine whether correlations exist between a history of cardiovascular risk and the development of cognitive decline, brain structural changes and specific fluid biomarkers in cohorts of elderly Pennsylvanians. In addition, they will provide educational and research training for minority undergraduate students at Lincoln University.

Dr. Wolk will receive $3,500,475 for research in the Aging Brain Cohort Dedicated to Diversity (ABCD2) Study to bring a precision medicine model of Alzheimer’s Disease to African Americans who have not been well-represented in clinical research. The research will enhance the understanding of the relationship between measures of disease and progressive brain injury, and cognitive decline, in the transition from normal aging to the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s Disease, before symptom onset. By determining these relationships and the role of additional risk factors, like vascular disease, genetics, and sociodemographic factors, African Americans in Pennsylvania will benefit from advances in risk prediction and prevention studies.

There are a number of risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Some cannot be changed, while others can be influenced by lifestyles. Risk factors for Alzheimer’s include:

  • Age – most individuals with the disease are 65 and older. After age 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years;
  • Family history – Those with a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s are most likely to develop the disease, and the risk increases if more than one family member has the disease;
  • Genetics – Individuals with Alzheimer’s risk genes are more likely to develop the disease; and
  • Additional factors – Additional factors are ones that we may have the ability to influence. These include preventing head injuries, having strong heart health, and aging healthy by eating a healthy diet, staying socially active, avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol and exercising both your body and your mind.

There are a number of signs of Alzheimer’s disease, ranging from mild to severe cases of the disease. Mild signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Memory loss;
  • Poor judgment leading to bad decisions;
  • Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative;
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks;
  • Repeating questions;
  • Trouble handling money and paying bills;
  • Wandering and getting lost;
  • Losing things or misplacing them in odd places;
  • Mood and personality changes; and
  • Increased anxiety and/or aggression.

More severe signs of the disease will require additional supervision and important conversations with health care providers.