UT Health San Antonio Researchers Striving to Learn More About Latino Dementia Risk


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Researchers at UT Health San Antonio are launching a five-year, $15.5-million study to investigate why the region’s older Mexican Americans experience a high rate of dementia.  

The project, the San Antonio Mind and Heart Study, is led by UT Health San Antonio’s Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases with funding from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging. 

Let’s dive deeper Latinos, dementia, and the goals of this study.  

A Continuation of Important Data 

The new dementia study is an is an extension of the San Antonio Heart Study, conducted at UT Health San Antonio between 1979 and 2006 led Dr. Helen P. Hazuda.   

Researchers, led by Dr. Claudia L. Satizabal, associate professor of population health sciences at UT Health San Antonio, will reconnect with the surviving participants from the original study.  

Of the 5,158 participants ages 25-64 in the original San Antonio Heart Study, about 3,000 are still alive according to a search of death records. 65% are Latino. 

“We will seek to enroll as many of the surviving participants as we can in the San Antonio Heart and Mind Study,” Satizabal said. “The participants returned for follow-up visits, which means we have information about them from their midlife. This is precious, unique data that is hardly ever available, and it now enables us to employ a life-course approach to dementia because we have this information.” 

The main difference between the original study and others like it, is that researchers obtained midlife information, Satizabal said. 

“The fact that the original study collected information on blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes starting in the late 1970s makes it an incredible research resource,” she said. “We can reconnect with the participants today and see how the last 20 to 50 years of their lives have impacted their brain structure and function.” 

If you are a participant in the original San Antonio Heart Study, contact sahms@uthscsa.edu to learn more about the new study!  

Diving Deeper into Brain Health 

The first San Antonio Heart Study focused on diabetes and heart disease. It did not include brain imaging.  

The new study will utilize MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) to learn how much amyloid and tau, the two main proteins related to Alzheimer’s disease, is in the brains of San Antonio Heart and Mind Study participants. 

“And we will do other assessments that were not done in the other studies, such as a comprehensive neuropsychological battery and studies of blood markers and cerebrospinal fluid markers indicating disease,” Satizabal said. 

Dr. Sudha Seshadri, professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio and founding director of the Biggs Institute, is a senior investigator with the famed Framingham Heart Study, an observational study of multiple generations of family members in the town of Framingham outside Boston that began in 1948.  

The Framingham research is primarily on people of European ancestry, not the best sample to explore racial ethnic influences on diseases such as dementia.  

Studies in other populations, including Mexican Americans, are needed. 

“We believe the San Antonio Heart and Mind Study will fill that gap,” Seshadri said. “Studies like this are vital to understand what is unique about Hispanic populations and their risk, both in terms of genetic and environmental factors.”

“And finding answers that help Hispanics is not just helpful to Hispanics,” she said. “It’s helpful to everyone in the community. Typically, it is by studying populations that haven’t yet been studied that we find answers.” 

If you are a participant in the original San Antonio Heart Study, contact sahms@uthscsa.edu to learn more about the new study!  

Latinos and Dementia 

Alzheimer’s disease related dementias disproportionally impact Latinos.  

In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that about 13% of Latinos aged 65 or older have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. 

“Compared to non-Hispanic whites, older Hispanic adults in the United States are estimated to have a 50% increased risk of AD and are projected to bear the largest relative increase in [Alzheimer’s and dementia] cases by 2060,” according to UT Health San Antonio 

Mexican Americans not only represent the largest segment of Latinos in the United States, but also experience a high burden of cardiometabolic diseases. This has the potential to increase dementia disparities over the next decades. 

Other studies being done in cities such as San Diego and Miami are focused on different Hispanic subgroups originating from South America, Cuba and Puerto Rico.  

But in South Texas, the population is Mexican Americans. 

“The Mexican American culture is unique. For example, in the barrio we know that they have big families, and maybe that supportive social network helps brain aging. Those questions are not well explored. That’s why this study is exciting,” Satizabal added. 

If you are a participant in the original San Antonio Heart Study, contact sahms@uthscsa.edu to learn more about the new study!  

The Need for Latino Representation in Clinical Trials  

Latinos are historically underrepresented in clinical trials. 

The lack of Latinos in clinical trials makes it harder for researchers to find treatments tailored for this group, which make up 19.1% of the total United States population. 

Dr. Amelie Ramirez, Director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio is also helping tackle this issue by creating new ways to encourage Latinos to volunteer for cancer and Alzheimer’s clinical trials, with support from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.  

Ramirez is showcasing open clinical trials and uplifting the stories of Latino clinical trial participants on her Salud America! website. 

She’s also raising awareness through social media events and webinars. 


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

Looking for a clinical trial that is the right fit for you or someone in your familia?  

Search the Salud America! clinical trials page and explore open and ongoing trials.  



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