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The Age of Alzheimer’s: URC Universities Team Up to Research Deadly Disease

Modern medicine has helped to double the average life expectancy over the past 150 years. Sadly, the risk of getting Alzheimer’s increases with every year of age over 65, making innovative research and therapy solutions integral to fighting this deadly disease.

Alzheimer’s is a relentless and fatal brain disease that affects one out of every ten people over the age of 65. The disease comes on gradually, killing brain cells and compromising an individual’s ability to form new memories or hold on to old ones, process language, solve problems, regulate emotions, and perform basic motor functions. In the U.S. alone, more than five million Americans of age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, no diseaseslowing therapies exist.

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center (ADCC) was launched to support URC universities in a collaborative effort to conduct a wide range of studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“This opportunity will leverage the combined clinical, research, and educational expertise of our three universities to tackle this devastating disease,” said Scott Counts, Ph.D., associate professor of translational science and molecular medicine at MSU College of Human Medicine. “It will also allow us to improve access to care for families suffering from these conditions by providing more classes, information, and resources.”

The ADCC will emphasize areas of research that are often overlooked. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by two kinds of accumulated protein deposits: plaques and tangles. Much of the present research in the field investigates betaamyloid, the protein that forms the plaques. The Michigan ADCC will take a different focus.

“We’ll focus on studies of the many non-amyloid factors contributing to disease because beta-amyloid, though unquestionably important in Alzheimer’s, is already getting considerable attention,” said Henry Paulson, U-M neurologist and director of the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “The goal of all this innovative research is to understand disease processes and develop better treatments for the various dementias.”

Funding will also allow for deeper integration with geriatrics, movement disorders, and other programs across the three universities to develop new lines of research. For example, URC universities are working with the WSU Healthier Black Elders Center to advance the understanding of dementia in underrepresented minorities.

“The collaboration between Michigan’s highest research universities and the integration of strong community outreach represents an enormous opportunity for the citizens of Michigan to benefit directly as they struggle to understand and intervene with people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Peter Lichtenberg, Ph.D., director of WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, and ADCC co-core leader for training. “We are especially excited that this collaboration will extend the scientific and community engagement work on Alzheimer’s disease in African Americans.”