The University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and three other collaborating academic medical centers have received $26 million from the National Institutes of Health to identify risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of cognitive decline.
The new funding will pay for the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Neurocognitive Study, a comprehensive examination of thousands of patients that will include detailed neurocognitive testing and brain imaging. The project builds on the influential ARIC study, a large-scale investigation of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Using the wealth of information collected during ARIC’s 20-plus years, the study is expected to further illuminate causes of dementia, giving researchers a window into early physiological changes that eventually culminate in the development of Alzheimer’s.
Of particular interest is the role that vascular risk factors in middle age—including high blood pressure, diabetes, and lifestyle—play in the development of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline later in life.
Researchers believe Alzheimer’s disease likely isn’t caused by a single factor, but rather by a complex process involving multiple factors interacting and accumulating over decades.
Previous findings have pointed to the importance of vascular risk factors in predicting decline in cognitive functions such as memory and processing speed.
As a primary site, the University will receive $4.3 million for its portion of the study. Researchers here will work with the University of Mississippi Medical Center as well as Wake Forest University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.