Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Contributes to Fight Against Alzheimer's
LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 26, 2013) — Alzheimer's disease is on the rise, but the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is a major player in the fight against this debilitating condition. Since the founding of the SBCoA in 1979, and the federal funding of the SBCoA Alzheimer's Disease Center (ADC) in 1985, the center has made many contributions to the body of knowledge about Alzheimer's and related brain aging conditions.
The facts about Alzheimer's disease are staggering. An estimated 5.2 million Americans and approximately 34 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Nearly half (45 percent) of people age 85-plus have Alzheimer’s disease. Because age is the greatest risk factor for dementia, these numbers are expected to escalate rapidly and potentially triple by the year 2050 as the baby boom generation ages. In the US alone, the 2013 cost of Alzheimer’s is projected to be $203 billion.
While deaths from other major diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and HIV decreased significantly between 2000 and 2010, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease increased by 68 percent. Alzheimer’s is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
"It is imperative that we discover more about the underlying mechanisms that lead to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders, and develop effective interventions to reduce the risk, slow the progression, or prevent the onset of these devastating age-related diseases. The overall goal of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA) is to generate and disseminate new knowledge about the aging process and age-related brain diseases through cutting-edge research, education and outreach, and clinical programs. Research at SBCoA is at the forefront of the field," said SBCoA director Linda Van Eldik, who has been at the center since 2010.
Contributions by the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging fall into four broad categories: research on biomarkers; cellular and molecular level research; lifestyle research; and drug development.
Research on Biomarkers: Changes in the brain consistent with Alzheimer’s pathology can develop 10-20 years before memory impairment is evident. This emphasizes the importance of developing new methods to detect very early changes, or biomarkers, in living individuals in the absence of cognitive impairment.
Researchers at SBCoA are exploring several approaches to the development of novel biomarkers, including the use of structural and functional neuroimaging procedures, the detection of novel biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood, and the application of sophisticated computational models. These studies may help us identify individuals at risk for dementia, and therefore tailor future therapeutic interventions to the individuals who are most likely to benefit.
Cellular and Molecular Level Research: Work at SBCoA is defining how abnormal changes and dysregulated mechanisms in the brain can contribute to the progression of disease. Some of these important cellular and molecular mechanisms include contributions from amyloid and tau pathology, abnormal aggregations of proteins, brain inflammation and oxidative stress, genetic variants, prior head injury, and vascular problems. Understanding the earliest changes that occur in the brain may help us to develop more effective interventions by targeting these disease mechanisms.
Lifestyle Research: SBCoA research is defining the importance of lifestyle modifications in reducing the risk of dementia and maintaining a healthy brain as one ages. Activities that are good for the heart also appear to be good for the brain, including regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, staying mentally and socially connected, and monitoring blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body weight.
Drug Development: Researchers at SBCoA are also working with the national Alzheimer’s consortium as well as private foundations and pharmaceutical companies to perform clinical trials of the latest drug candidates, to directly determine if our research volunteers will benefit from promising new therapeutic interventions.
"When the SBCoA began in the late 1970’s, very little was known about Alzheimer’s disease. The field as a whole did not understand how the pathological changes in the brain occurred, nothing was known about genetic risk factors, there were no medications available, and we didn’t have good ways of even diagnosing the disease. The Center and the field in general have come a huge distance since then," Van Eldik said.
"There is real hope on the horizon in our fight against age-related brain disorders. But we can’t stop now. We need to continue to pursue our important work on understanding why and how some individuals transition from successful cognitive aging to development of cognitive impairment and eventual dementia. We also need to more rapidly translate these discoveries into new information, programs and interventions that will benefit older adults and those who care for them."
MEDIA CONTACT: Allison Elliott, Allison.Elliott@uky.edu