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Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center receives $9.1 million from NIH to continue dementia research

The National Institutes of Health has renewed funding to the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center at Indiana University School of Medicine for the fifth consecutive five-year term, awarding the center its largest grant yet of $9.1 million.

Bernardino Ghetti

Bernardino Ghetti

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The grant will enable the Indiana center's scientists and doctors to continue their work in state-of-the-art research aimed at developing better understanding of the causes and potential treatments for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, said Dr. Bernardino Ghetti, the center director.

The center also offers a variety of educational and outreach programs, including an annual spring educational symposium with sessions for scientists, health care providers and caregivers.

The funding renewal marks the 20th anniversary of the center's being named an NIH-designated and funded Alzheimer's disease center. As one of 29 such centers in the U.S., the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center has investigators who tackle a broad range of dementia-related issues and have developed a reputation for specialized expertise in several areas:

  • Hereditary Alzheimer's disease: In these forms, symptoms of the disease appear frequently at much younger ages than in the forms of the disease that affect the elderly. The center's researchers and physicians have been working with some families for as long as 35 years.
  • Frontotemporal dementias: These are a group of brain disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain and sometimes are misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's disease. These areas of the brain are functionally involved in reasoning, emotions and memory. Center researchers have helped identify several genetic mutations associated with such dementias. Also, the center hosted the 7th International Conference on Frontotemporal Dementias in October 2010.
  • Prion diseases: These are progressive neurodegenerative disorders associated with abnormal forms of the prion protein in the brain. Center researchers have identified the genetic underpinnings for various forms of prion disease.

Recent dementia research has enabled investigators and physicians to recognize that there are many different types of Alzheimer's disease and dementias, said Ghetti, Distinguished Professor, Indiana University, and Chancellor's Professor, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

Alzheimer Brain Scan

Pictured is a brain scan of a patient who has Alzheimer's disease.

The Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center is composed of six cores:

  • Administrative core led by Ghetti
  • Clinical core led by Martin R. Farlow, professor of neurology
  • Data and statistics core led by Sujuan Gao, professor of biostatistics
  • Neuropathology core led by Ghetti
  • Education and information transfer core led by Mary G. Austrom, Wesley P. Martin Professor of Alzheimer's Education
  • Neuroimaging core led by Andrew J. Saykin, Raymond C. Beeler Professor of Radiology and director of the IU Center for Neuroimaging.

The neuroimaging core was added in 2009. The emergence of sophisticated imaging tools has been particularly significant in both better diagnosis of patients and research into causes and potential treatments for dementia, he said.

"Today with imaging we are doing things we did not dream of when we started this center in 1991," Ghetti said.

Nevertheless, as the center moves into its third decade of NIH-designated support, fundamental research questions remain, such as a detailed understanding of the relationship between the tau and amyloid proteins that play key roles in the development of Alzheimer's disease, he said.