NIH Increases Funding for Large Scale Alzheimer’s Biomarker Study

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elderly man with head breaking apart
[Source: Cracked Hat/Getty Images]

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is giving more funding for biomarker measures to the ongoing Health and Aging Brain Among Latino Elders (HABLE) study. NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) made the award, which is expected to total $45.5 million over five years and goes to the University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) at Fort Worth.

This award was made to the HSC’s Health and Aging Brain Among Latino Elders-Amyloid Tau, and Neurodegeneration (HABLE-AT(N)) Study, and will support research on health disparities in brain aging and Alzheimer’s between Mexican Americans and non-Latino whites. Mexican Americans are the largest segment of the U.S. Latino population

Alzheimer’s is an increasingly common condition worldwide, and it is estimated that close to 75 million people across the globe will have the disease by 2050. Approximately 13.8 million of those people will be Americans. About 5.8 million Americans age 65 and older currently live with the condition. While there is debate on this topic, it is believed that Hispanics are approximately one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites.  That’s substantially higher even than African-Americans, who are about twice as likely as whites to have the disease.

The new study aims to ensure that Alzheimer’s biomarker studies are increasingly representative of the US population. HABLE-AT(N) will provide a variety of biological, behavioral, environmental, and sociocultural data to examine the big picture of how Alzheimer’s affects people throughout their lives. There will also be data to determine whether Mexican Americans experience the same Alzheimer’s biomarker trajectory reported in past studies.

There is increasing interest in teasing out health disparities in a variety of diseases.  The massive All of US Research Program, for example aims to recruit one million people across the US to create one of the most diverse health databases in history. Researchers in that study will use the data to learn how our biology, lifestyle, and environment affect health. The study of health disparities in Alzheimer’s treatment is a priority since a demographic shift is occurring in the US and a growing proportion of the population comprises minority ethnoracial groups. Evidence suggests patients of minority ethnoracial descent often receive delayed diagnosis or inadequate treatment for dementia.

“To successfully battle and ultimately prevent or treat a complex disease such as Alzheimer’s, we need to understand how this disease and other forms of dementia affect our nation’s diverse communities differently,” said Eliezer Masliah, MD, director of the NIA Division of Neuroscience. “Measuring additional biomarkers in this population will provide important clues to guide approaches to target the right disease processes in the right people at the right time.

Launched in September 2017, the HABLE study has nearly completed recruitment of 1,000 Mexican Americans and 1,000 non-Latino whites, age 50 years and older, in the Fort Worth area. HABLE participants receive a functional exam, clinical labs, neuropsychological testing, bloodwork, and an MRI of the brain. The added funding for HABLE-AT(N) significantly expands the neuroimaging component of the study to include amyloid and tau PET. The researchers also plan to determine if traces of amyloid peptides (Aβ40 and Aβ42), tau, and neurofilament light (NfL) — as well as exosomes in the blood — can be used to screen across the spectrum of Alzheimer’s, from asymptomatic to mild cognitive impairment and advanced stages of the disease.

An additional benefit of HABLE and HABLE AT(N) will be the ability to better classify/categorize participants into groups by type of dementia and stage of the disease. This will help facilitate potential enrollment in future studies.

HSC will also make the HABLE and HABLE-AT(N) data available to the scientific community to facilitate rapid scientific advancements, thereby meeting an NIA goal of open access to research data.

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