The 1st Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in South Texas Will Tackle Dementia in Latinos


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Today, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) designated UT Health San Antonio and UT Texas Rio Grande Valley as an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to boost research and reduce the Alzheimer’s burden among Latinos, who suffer disparities in dementia.

The new center is the first in South Texas. It joins 32 other centers nationwide that are accelerating research on effective Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention, diagnostics, and treatments, and improving support for families and caregivers.

Salud America! is a center partner to promote its research and clinical trials.

“This federal designation by NIA will be transformational as we seek cures and provide the best possible care, based on the most up-to-date knowledge and technology, to the families of South Texas and throughout our state,” said Dr. Sudha Seshadri, professor of neurology at UT Health Science Center San Antonio and founding director of its Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases said in a press release.

Let’s explore what a center is, why it is needed, and what it will do for Latinos.

Update 1/19/22: Here is a new video of Dr. Sudha Seshadri on the impact of UT Health San Antonio becoming an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to boost research and reduce the Alzheimer’s burden among Latinos.

What is an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center?

NIA established the first Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in 1984.

Each center facilitates research for more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, care and therapy in Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

“Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers bring together scientists and research participants with a wide range of research focus areas, within each center and across the network,” said Dr. Nina Silverberg, program director, in a statement.

Latino scientist microscope clinical trial study researchCenters focus have taken these actions:

  • Develop a better understanding of amyloid plaque and tau tangle formation, two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.
  • Characterize abnormal proteins linked to multiple neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Distinguish between cognitive changes that occur in normal aging from those that indicate a transition to dementia.
  • Explore changes in the brain and body through the clinical stages of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
  • Develop novel biomarkers for the early detection of Alzheimer’s and related disorders.
  • Work with diverse populations aiming to ensure clinical studies include participants of all ages, races, and ethnicities.
  • Support brain donation programs that enable researchers to better understand how Alzheimer’s affects the brain.
  • Share a large set of standardized data on thousands of research volunteers with scientists around the world, to use to help better understand Alzheimer’s and other dementias and look for treatments.
  • Conduct clinical studies to discover new targets and potential treatments of Alzheimer’s and related disorders.

“NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers (ADRC) have been at the heart of progress in Alzheimer’s and related dementias research in the U.S. for more than three decades,” said NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes, in a statement.

Why is the New Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Needed in South Texas?

In South Texas, 69% of people are Latino.

Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites.

This population are at risk because of medical conditions – high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease – that contribute to developing Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s disease takes a higher toll among Hispanics,” said Dr. Gladys Maestre of UT Rio Grande Valley, in a press release.

On top of that, Latinos, Latinos are underrepresented in clinical research.

Without Latino representation in Alzheimer’s clinical trials, researchers cannot find treatments that work best for this population. They also can’t understand and address the differential role of Alzheimer’s among Latinos, and the impact of alcohol, sleep deprivation, diabetes, and more.

“Texas is the third most populous state in the country, has the second highest number of deaths related to Alzheimer’s disease, and is home to a Mexican American [Latino] population that is among the fastest growing U.S. demographic segments,” Seshadri said.

“[Latinos] are an under-studied population in dementia research. Although our center will study all people, we are in an ideal location to place a strong focus on [Latino] families.”

What Will the New Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Do for Latinos in South Texas?

The new Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UT Health San Antonio and UT Rio Grande Valley will provide $14.8 million over the next five years to support researchers to conduct Alzheimer’s research in South Texas.

This will “rapidly advance the science by sharing these resources broadly,” according to an NIA and NIH press release.

“[The center] will harness its unique geographic location in South Texas — a region of approximately 5 million underserved Mexican Americans — to build connections with the community and enhance the diversity of data and biosamples available through the national network of [centers],” according to the press release.

oral health latino lifespan old man with child playing basketball gym latino alzheimer's disease dementia tweetchat brain healthAlzheimer’s Disease Research Cente Alzheimer’s Disease Research CenterThe center will accelerate discoveries at the Glenn Biggs Institute at UT Health San Antonio.

The Glenn Biggs Institute, formed in 2017 under the leadership of Seshadri, aims to change the trajectory of pain caused by the disease for Latino patients, families, and caregivers.

“Our research discoveries and the insights we learn from our patients and families about what is important to them will become part of a very large national dataset for [center] scientists and health policy experts to use, and we will be part of shaping the research as well as rapidly learning from the wisdom of all our colleagues at the other centers. It will be a game-changer that will take our research and care to the next level,” Seshadri said.

Salud America! is a center partner.

We will help the Glenn Biggs Institute promote Alzheimer’s disease information and communicate to reduce barriers Latinos encounter when navigating clinical trial participation.

“We are excited to be a part of this amazing work to address Alzheimer’s and related dementia, which harm Latinos in South Texas and beyond,” said Dr. Amelie Ramirez, leader of Salud America!, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences, and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.

Ramirez is creating new ways to encourage Latinos to volunteer for cancer and Alzheimer’s clinical trials. A grant from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, supports this work.

“Latinos in clinical trials are not only helping themselves. They are also building a future with better treatments that can help their families and communities in the future,” Ramirez said.

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