Alzheimer's disease researchers across the nation have an infusion of new grants from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). More than 100 Alzheimer's-related projects, ranging from basic research to possible new treatments, are benefiting from millions of Federal dollars awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and from hundreds of newly created jobs, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Last year, Congress allocated $10.4 billion to NIH for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The NIA's $273.3 million share supports both new and existing projects, with an emphasis on research that will be carried out within the Act's 2-year timeframe.
"We are delighted to announce the award of Recovery Act funds to many dedicated, hardworking scientists committed to advancing scientific discovery into Alzheimer's disease and cognitive impairment," said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "This unprecedented boost in research funds will help us in reaching our ultimate goal—treating and preventing Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline and reducing the individual and societal burden of this devastating disease."
The NIA committed ARRA funding to two major, ongoing projects—the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) received $24 million, including $12 million from the NIH Office of the Director, and the Alzheimer's Disease Genetic Consortium (ADGC) received $5.4 million.
Under a 2-year Grand Opportunity (GO) grant, ADNI will add participants, test the use of a new brain-imaging agent, and continue data analysis in its quest to find more sensitive and accurate methods to detect Alzheimer's at earlier stages and mark its progress.
Launched in 2004, ADNI has gathered and compared thousands of brain scans, genetic profiles, and biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid from more than 800 older adults with Alzheimer's disease, late mild cognitive impairment, and normal cognition. For more information about ADNI, see the 2008 Progress Report on Alzheimer's Disease.
ADNI-GO is recruiting 200 new participants, ages 55 to 60, with early mild cognitive impairment to join 500 participants from ADNI 1 with either late MCI or normal cognition, who will continue to be followed in ADNI-GO. The objective is to discern differences between people with early MCI and the other two groups.(For more information, see the Clinical Trials and Studies Update section.)
"We're trying to go earlier and earlier in the disease process to identify which cognitively normal people will develop Alzheimer's," said Dr. Neil Buckholtz, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch in the NIA Division of Neuroscience. "When new drugs become available to treat Alzheimer's, we'll be able to provide those drugs at the very earliest stages of the disease process."
The ADGC also will expand with new funding. The 3-year-old study will enlarge its bank of DNA samples, adding samples from 3,800 people with the disease and 3,800 without the disease. This expansion will help identify additional genetic risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia in older adults. The APOE ε4 gene is considered a risk factor, and variants of four other genes may play a role. Scientists think there are others to be discovered.
"This [grant] will fund about 25 percent more samples," said Principal Investigator Dr. Gerard Schellenberg, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "It also allows analysis to move forward as more samples are collected."
The consortium's goal is to collect 20,000 genetic samples (10,000 from people with Alzheimer's and 10,000 from cognitively healthy people) to perform genome-wide association studies, which use methods that can rapidly test up to a million sites in one person's genes. In this study, researchers will scan markers across the genomes, or complete sets of DNA, of many people to detect genetic variants associated with Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline.
"With this large sample size and the rapid DNA sample and data sharing, there are tremendous opportunities for defining new disease pathways that could lead to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, director of the NIA Division of Neuroscience.
Another genome-wide association study focuses on identifying risk factor genes for cognitive decline in older African Americans, an understudied segment of the population, according to the Principal Investigator, Dr. Denis A. Evans of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Supported by $4.7 million in Recovery Act funds, the project will collect and analyze the DNA of 4,140 people enrolled in other NIA-funded aging studies, and data will be shared with the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Consortium. The study will also examine genetic markers for stroke, high blood pressure, and other conditions.
Another $820,000 in Recovery Act money will help develop methods for identifying combinations of genes that might influence age-related risk of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Allen Roses of the Duke University School of Medicine will study the role of TOMM40, a gene that makes a protein thought to be involved in Alzheimer's. In particular, he will look at variants of TOMM40 that tend to occur along with the APOE ε3 gene to see how they affect the risk of Alzheimer's and the age at which it begins.
Other Alzheimer's and related research funded by the Recovery Act includes:
For more details about the NIA's Recovery Act Alzheimer's research projects, see "Recovery Funds Advance Alzheimer's Disease Research." More information about the NIA's other ARRA activities can be found at www.nia.nih.gov/recovery .