Linda Van Eldik, director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, was awarded a translational research grant from the Alzheimer's Association.

Sanders-Brown awarded $1 million Alzheimer’s Association grant

Linda Van Eldik, director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA), was awarded a “Part the Cloud” translational research grant from the Alzheimer’s Association. This two-year, $997,738 grant will fund early clinical trials for a promising new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, Van Eldik’s team is exploring brain inflammation’s role in nerve cell damage as a first step in identifying opportunities to suppress detrimental inflammatory molecules.

“Brain inflammation is now recognized as an important driver of neurodegenerative disease progression, and we desperately need new selective anti-inflammatory drugs to be tested in humans,” said Van Eldik. “This new Part the Cloud funding will help us move this important research forward.”

“Part the Cloud” is part of the broader Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant Program, which has awarded more than $375 million to more than 2,400 projects around the world.

According to Alzheimer’s Association Executive Director DeeAnna Esslinger, more than five million Americans are currently living with this disease, and that number is projected to more than triple by 2050.

“The Part the Cloud initiative is an essential part of Alzheimer’s Association research funding because new, more effective Alzheimer’s therapies are desperately needed,” she said. “This new grant allows Dr. Van Eldik and her team to begin testing this therapy now instead of waiting on other funding sources, or not being able to do so at all.”


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UK Sanders-Brown was selected to participate in a landmark $3.6 million NIH grant to research vascular cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID).

Sanders-Brown to join landmark NIH grant for dementia research

The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA) has been selected to participate in a multicenter landmark $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify biomarkers for vascular cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID).

UK was one of just seven sites selected for the five-year NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) grant. The other sites are Boston University, Rush University, Johns Hopkins, University of Southern California, UCSF/UC-Davis and the University of New Mexico. The awards establish the new national Small Vessel VCID Biomarkers Consortium.

Taking steps to find VCID treatment

“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with such a respected group of scientists to pursue this important avenue,” said Donna Wilcock, Ph.D., associate professor and co-principal investigator for the SBCoA study site.

Each site will use the first two years of the grant to explore the efficacy of different biomarkers for VCID, which would be the first step toward diagnosis and, ultimately, treatment for this common cause of cognitive impairment and dementia, according to Wilcock. Sanders-Brown will look at potential fluid biomarkers while the other centers will research imaging, biological measures and/or cognitive testing.

“We will be testing blood plasma and cerebral spinal fluid in a cohort of about 250 people to identify inflammatory proteins and other proteins associated with blood vessel injury as a biomarker for VCI,” said Dr. Gregory Jicha, Sanders-Brown professor and co-principal investigator.

In the remaining three years, Sanders-Brown researchers will share its approach to measuring biomarkers in fluids and also cross-reference data from other consortium centers with a goal towards consensus on a single or combination of approaches that correlate with accurate VCI diagnosis.

Sanders-Brown is invaluable to research on aging

“Without a definitive method to diagnose VCI early in disease progression, we can’t proceed to the next step, which is to identify treatments,” said Wilcock. “Since most people develop some level of VCI as they age, the ability to identify and treat this disease will have a profound impact on the health and independence of our aging population.”

Sanders-Brown sits at the epicenter of the American “stroke belt,” said Roderick Corriveau, NINDS Project Officer for the study. “That, in combination with their exceptional technical skills and knowledge of VCID and other dementias, makes them a valuable part of the Small Vessel VCID Biomarkers Consortium.”

A history of success, continued today

Dr. Robert DiPaola, dean of the UK College of Medicine, points out that this grant demonstrates UK’s commitment to conduct truly translational research.

“This kind of study exemplifies the transdisciplinary collaboration where research crosses multiple boundaries to solve our most important healthcare needs,” DiPaola said. “Sanders-Brown has been a pioneer in the effort to conduct translational science at UK, and this grant is a fitting acknowledgement of the quality of their work.”

UK initiated its aging program in 1963. With a grant from the Eleanor and John Y. Brown Jr. Foundation in 1972, the construction of the current Sanders-Brown Research Building was begun and, with additional funding from the state, a program in biomedical research was implemented. In 1979, under the direction of the late Dr. William Markesbery, Sanders-Brown emerged as a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of life for the elderly through research and education.


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Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK HealthCare

Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK helps us understand taste and flavor

Dan Han, PsyD, clinical section chief of neuropsychology at UK HealthCare, works with patients who have brain injuries and neurodegenerative disorders, many of whom describe loss of smell and, in tandem, changes in the way food tastes.

These taste-related side effects piqued Han’s interest in neurogastronomy, a field of study that looks at how the brain influences a person’s perception of food. With the help of an internationally renowned chef, Han created the International Society of Neurogastronomy (ISN) and is hosting the second annual Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK HealthCare this Saturday, Dec. 5.

Enthusiastic about neurogastronomy

In 2012, Han met chef Fred Morin and discovered they shared a passion for neurogastronomy. Their conversation inspired Han to reconsider how this science could help patients with brain injuries or cancer.

Could foods be designed that adjusted for the flavor perception issues reported by these patients?

Two years later, Han, Morin and others co-founded the ISN with the intent to start answering this very question. Late last year, the ISN held its first symposium at UK HealthCare. Chefs, doctors, clinical psychologists, agriculturists, researchers and cancer patients gathered for the event, which included roundtable discussions and engaging presentations.

Second annual symposium

This Saturday, Han and company will host the second annual Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK, continuing their exploration of the concept of brain and behavior in the context of food. This year’s event will feature brief, TED talk-like presentations punctuated with breaks for tastings and a contest where the food from regional and national chefs will be judged by patients with taste impairments.

Han hopes that the ISN’s work can help clinicians better understand the importance of taste perception for a patient’s well-being. Indeed, he finds his own approach has been changed by his research.

“I ask every one of my patients now, ‘How’s your smell and taste? How is that aspect of your quality of life?’” Han said. “It wasn’t until I started asking that I noticed how many people will tell you that it has been compromised. But nobody’s asked about it and they never thought to bring it up because they never heard of mentioning that type of thing in the doctor’s office.”

“We’re trying to challenge that,” he adds, “so that patients undergoing treatment can recover their quality of life – a little bit at least.”


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Traditional dishes in some families can be powerful reminders of being with loved ones. But what if those important foods no longer tasted the same?

What is neurogastronomy? 3 experts explain

The end-of-year holidays are upon us, and for many, it’s a time made all the more meaningful by food. Dishes that are traditions in some families can be powerful reminders of coming together with loved ones to celebrate and reflect.

But what if the foods that elicit such strong memory and emotion in us no longer tasted the same? Certain foods hold so much sentiment in our lives, so how would we react if we could no longer have that experience? Our three guests on this week’s Behind the Blue podcast have been exploring that very idea of taste, smell and how our nerve receptors interpret that information.

Dr. Dan Han is a UK neuropsychologist and the director of Neurobehavioral Studies at the UK Sports Medicine Research Institute. Tim McClintock is a UK physiology professor working in neural regeneration. And Ouita Michel is a nationally acclaimed chef and owner of the Holly Hill Inn.

Together, they are forging new paths in a field called neurogastronomy, which examines how the brain creates taste perceptions. Their work is taking them into areas of learning how to change and enhance the mechanics of the flavors of foods, how we experience them and how this may impact the world in areas of clinical and nutritional science, both on a personal and a global level.

You can listen to the whole podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.


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The Gensel Lab's objective is to determine how to harness reparative capabilities of inflammation in spinal cord injuries.

UK researchers discuss the search for cures to spinal cord injuries

John Gensel, an assistant professor in the physiology department and the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center, and two members of his lab team – Bei Zhang and Taylor Otto – were featured in the most recent UK Research Media podcast.

Taylor Otto, an undergraduate lab assistant in Gensel’s lab, described UK as being the full package. “We have it all here. It’s a good program to be able to come into, not really knowing what you want to exactly do in the science field, but being able to figure it out at the same time,” said Otto.

Bei Zhang, a research scientist, said that working with Gensel has motivated her to do the best science she can. “If we can work at our research project every day in generating different thoughts and prove our hypothesis, we can make a contribution to the cure for spinal cord injuries.”

The team’s objective is to determine how to harness reparative capabilities of inflammation in spinal cord injuries. “Our goal is to really find out what physiological factors regulate the reparative or pathological balance, and gain insights into developing therapies for that,” said Gensel. “The overall goal is to improve the lives of individuals with a spinal cord injury.”


You can listen to the full podcast below:


Next steps:

  • Learn more about spinal cord injuries and what makes them so difficult to treat.
  • The UK Spine Center brings together orthopaedic experts and neurosurgeons for an advanced approach to spine care.
UK Sanders-Brown had its annual Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia last week. Speakers discussed healthy brain aging and self-care for caregivers.

Healthy brain aging the focus of Sanders-Brown symposium

UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA) hosted its sixth annual Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia last week with speakers focused on healthy brain aging and self-care for caregivers. The two-day program offered sessions for both scientific and community audiences.

On Friday, Nov. 4, the scientific session in the UK Chandler Hospital Pavilion A auditorium featured speakers Dr. Gary Small of UCLA and Dr. Julie Schneider of Rush University, who presented their latest findings and answered questions from the audience.

The science behind healthy brain aging

Schneider provided an overview of her observations that, there are brain changes in addition to the well-characterized plaques and tangles that may also cause cognitive dysfunction and dementia.

Small gave the audience an overview of the scientific underpinnings for the hypothesis that lifestyle changes – including diet and exercise — can be protective against Alzheimer’s disease, particularly when combined with pharmacological therapies.

Afterward, Sanders-Brown Center on Aging faculty members Joe Abisambra, PhD; Harry LeVine, PhD; Peter Nelson, MD, PhD; and Linda Van Eldik, PhD, presented findings from their latest research.

Caring for the caregivers

On Saturday, Nov. 5, the Bluegrass Ballroom at the Lexington Convention Center was filled with close to 300 members of the community who came to hear Dr. Small and Mary Austrom, PhD, of Indiana University.

Small has authored or co-authored several books on memory and memory loss, including “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program,” “2 Weeks to a Younger Brain,” and the international best-seller “The Memory Bible.” Dr. Small shared with the audience his recommended techniques for healthy brain aging.

Austrom is an expert on late-life transitions and adjustment to retirement. She is also interested in non-pharmacological interventions for dementia patients and their caregivers, and the stress and grief associated with caring for someone with dementia.

Austrom spoke on the burden of caregiving and the importance of ensuring adequate respite for caregivers.

SBCoA leads the way in Alzheimer’s research

Following the formal presentations Austrom, along with Sanders-Brown’s own Dr. Gregory Jicha and Marie Smart, answered questions from the audience ranging from the challenges of caring for someone with dementia to end-of-life decision-making to the need for early and accurate diagnosis, and what is on the horizon with respect to research and clinical trials.

“It’s always invigorating to have clinicians and researchers from UK and other institutions come together to share current findings and trends on dementia and aging,” said Van Eldik, director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. “We consider it part of our responsibility as a world leader in Alzheimer’s research to foster collaboration among institutions and share our insights with members of our community.”

The Markesbery Symposium is named in honor of the late Dr. William R. Markesbery, the founder and long-time director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and an internationally renowned expert on aging and dementia.


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Carlee with Dr. Jessica Lee

Advanced medicine saved her life. This is how she said thank you.

Courtney Wilson’s life very nearly ended in 2013. She credits Dr. Jessica Lee and the stroke team at UK HealthCare with saving her.

The 30-year-old preschool teacher’s assistant from Russell County awoke one morning “feeling awful,” she said. She dropped her 2-year-old off at daycare and took her 5-year-old to school, then popped into the school nurse’s office for advice.

“All I could tell her was that I felt really bad and that my balance was off,” said Courtney.  “The nurse drove me to the Emergency Room right away.”

At Russell County Hospital, emergency room doctors examined her carefully but could find no other symptoms to explain Courtney’s troubles.  They consulted with Dr. Lee, director of UK HealthCare’s Stroke Center, who advised them to administer the clot-buster drug called TPA and send Courtney immediately to UK Chandler Hospital.

Lee and her team from UK’s Kentucky Neuroscience Institute were similarly confused by Courtney’s mysterious lack of neurological deficits.  But Comprehensive Stroke Centers like the one at UK HealthCare follow specific procedures when evaluating possible stroke patients. So, as part of UK’s routine screening process, Lee ordered a CT angiogram, which provides doctors with images of the vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain.

“When we pulled her scan up on the screen, it was shocking news,” Lee says. “We were stunned.”

Courtney had a thrombus — a blood clot — in what’s called “the artery of life.” This artery is the superhighway of arteries, serving areas of the brain that control heartbeat and breathing. Courtney was on the precipice of a massive stroke.

“I literally ran to her hospital room,” remembers Lee, “and sure enough, she was deteriorating before my eyes.  We absolutely scrambled from there.”

UK is fortunate to have a “dream team” trained to handle emergencies like this one.  Dr. Abdulnasser Alhajeri is an interventional neuroradiologist — one of only about 300 in the U.S. — and Dr. Justin Fraser is an endovascular neurosurgeon. Both doctors are able to navigate tools such as tiny catheters, wires and other devices through blood vessels to diagnose and treat illnesses of the spinal cord and brain — also known as the central nervous system. Because this requires only a tiny incision in the groin instead of the larger incision necessary for open surgery, hospital stays and recovery times are faster, complications are less likely, and patients can return home to their families more quickly.

But, in what Lee describes as “the perfect storm,” both Drs. Fraser and Alhajeri were in other operating rooms on separate cases.

Time for Plan B.

Lee assembled a second surgical team to perform the preliminary phases of the procedure. “I didn’t even wait for transport to come get Courtney,” says Lee.  “Our Stroke Unit senior staff and I took her to the surgical suite ourselves.”

Then, as if choreographed, Dr. Alhajeri stepped from one room to the next and began to work on Courtney. Using high-tech precision imaging to watch its progress, Alhajeri positioned the catheter in Courtney’s brain, attached a large syringe-like device and sucked the clot out, reopening the vessel in just 15 minutes. “It was like watching the pneumatic tube at the bank drive-in,” said Dr. Lee.  “Whoosh!  It was gone.”

“Courtney is a lucky young woman for many reasons,” says Alhajeri. “The doctor in the Russell County Hospital ER had the foresight to call our stroke team despite Courtney’s lack of major symptoms.  The TPA they gave her delayed her decline and bought us some time to perform the thrombectomy.”

“She is also fortunate that UK has the resources to treat her. The next closest center that might have been able to treat her was an additional 90 minutes away.  She didn’t have 90 minutes to spare.”

Since her illness has an 80-90 percent mortality rate, the mere fact that Courtney is alive today is a wonder.  But the best part?

“The very few who survive this devastating event typically are left with substantial impairments, such as vision problems, the inability to speak or swallow, or complete paralysis,” says Lee. “But Courtney’s only residual deficit is some double vision on her far left gaze. We’re truly thrilled with her outcome.”

After Courtney’s close call, the Wilsons brought son Jaylynn into their family through adoption.

And now, just three years later, Courtney has yet another reason to feel blessed. On Sept. 1 of this year, she gave birth to a baby girl, who came into the world measuring 6 pounds, 11 ounces and  19.5 inches long.

Her name? Carlee.

“We are forever grateful for Dr. Lee and her medical staff,” wrote Courtney and her husband, Paul. “We wanted to honor her by naming our daughter Carlee.”


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A certain form of Alzheimer's immunotherapy has been unsuccessful, and researchers didn't know why. But UK Sanders-Brown research might be able to tell us.

Sanders-Brown research hints at underlying cause for Alzheimer’s drug trial failures

Because Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, many people use the two terms interchangeably. But inadequate blood flow to the brain due to strokes or ministrokes, called minifarcts, is a hallmark of a disease called Vascular Cognitive Impairment and Dementia (VCID). VCID is the second most common cause of dementia, and the two are not mutually exclusive – researchers estimate that 40-60% of Alzheimer’s disease patients also have VCID.

VCID may be making an Alzheimer’s treatment ineffective

A paper recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience by Donna Wilcock, PhD, of the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, reports that a certain form of immunotherapy targeted to Alzheimer’s patients may be ineffective when that patient also has VCID.

“These findings are important in that they provide a possible explanation for why clinical trials of anti-Aβ immunotherapy for Alzheimer’s disease have been historically unsuccessful,” Wilcock said. “If up to 40 percent of people with Alzheimer’s also have VCID, treatment candidates that target only the Alzheimer’s physiology won’t be effective in those patients. It’s like treating only half the disease.”

How the immunotherapy works

Most researchers agree that the formation of brain plaques containing amyloid β (Aβ) peptides is an initial step in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, which has led to a race to identify and test treatments that reduce the levels of these plaques. Anti-Aβ immunotherapy, which uses antibodies against Aβ to clear it from the brain, has been a leading approach.

While these drugs showed promise in animal studies, clinical trials have failed to show similar benefits in human patients.

“There has been one failure after another in clinical trials, which has been really disheartening for the scientific community and for patients, Wilcock said. “My work might shed some early light on why they failed and eventually open the door for a combination treatment for VCID and Alzheimer’s.”

Searching for new possibilities 

Without a suitable animal model, testing this hypothesis would not have been possible. Fortunately, Wilcock and her research team had already developed an innovative model of combined Alzheimer’s and VCID. Using this mouse model, together with its parent model of Alzheimer’s without VCID, Wilcock evaluated the ability of an anti-Aβ antibody to enhance cognitive capabilities in both models. While Aβ levels were reduced in both groups, cognitive function was not improved in the groups with combined Alzheimer’s and VCID.

“The failure of anti-Aβ immunotherapy in the mixed Alzheimer’s-VCID model suggests that both disease processes have to be treated to have a successful outcome,” Wilcock said. “The missing link has been that our animal models usually possess the hallmarks of only one disease, which has led to failure of successful translation to clinic.”

By developing a model that more accurately reflects the brain changes we see in the human brain with dementia, we can better develop our treatment approaches and increase our chances of successful translation. Our next step is to add a treatment for VCID on top of the Aβ immunotherapy to try to overcome the inability to produce a meaningful improvement in learning and memory.”

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers F31NS092202 and 1RO1NS079637. This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.


Next Steps

Dr. Kyrkanides, second from left, and his research team.

UK Dentistry dean aims for excellence through research

Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides began a research project during his orthodontic residency studying children born with cleft lip and palate. It was this project that sparked the realization for him that research is crucial and has been a driving force throughout his career.

“It was through the cleft lip/palate project and others that I came to the realization that research is the main engine in producing new, original knowledge so we can advance our science, both in medicine and dentistry, in order to improve patient care,” Kyrkanides said.

Watch a video featuring Dr. Kyrkanides below.

Dean of the UK College of Dentistry, Kyrkanides is both a dentist and neuroscientist. He came to UK last year from Stony Brook University in New York, one of the leading public research institutions in the country.

Kyrkanides has many accomplishments including inventing Natural Enamel, a new biomaterial for use in restorative dentistry. He also collaborated with researchers from across the country, including Dr. Sabine M. Brouxhon from the UK College of Medicine Department of  Surgery, to develop a novel cancer drug while at the State University of New York that is licensed by COI Pharmaceuticals Inc., an Avalon Ventures/GlaxoSmithKline consortium.

Currently, Kyrkanides and his team are dedicated to researching regenerative dentistry and are working to prove that dental enamel and fillings can be made out of patients’ cells. This would eliminate having to use plastic, metal or glass for dental reconstruction.

Kyrkanides said being a researcher at UK has been a rewarding experience.

“Having joined UK from the east coast, I have realized that UK, as a campus, is the place to be as a researcher,” he said. “It offers many collaborative opportunities through its many centers, such as the Markey Cancer Center, an NCI designated center … the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the Center for Oral Health and many others. There’s probably no other place where all this activity happens on one campus.”

Kyrkanides has excelled during his career and continues to accomplish more goals at UK. He believes that he is in a great atmosphere for research and has big plans to further transform the school of dentistry.

“As dean of the college, I’m committed in leading UK Dentistry into its full potential,” he said. “What I realized from the beginning, is that we have a group of faculty, staff and students that are very talented, very motivated and willing to work hard to join me into making UK Dentistry the No. 1 dental school in the country, maybe in the globe.”


Next steps:

  • Learn more about UK Dentistry, which offers expert comprehensive dental treatment for the entire family, including general, orthodontic and oral surgery services.
  • Visit UK Dentistry on Facebook to stay up to date on community events, programs, treatments, research, new physicians and more.
Making the Rounds with Dr. Gregory Jicha.

Dr. Gregory Jicha dishes on his past life as a chef

Making the RoundsIntroducing Making the Rounds, a new Q&A series where you’ll get to know the providers at UK HealthCare and what they’re like outside the lab and clinic. For our first entry, we spoke with Dr. Gregory Jicha, a clinician and researcher at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Dr. Gregory Jicha

Dr. Gregory Jicha

What was the last movie/book you saw/read?

I never read books because I read medical journals, and that requires all of my time. I have not read a book for fun since I was an undergraduate. Now, what’s the last movie that I watched? I watched “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” with my children.

Do you have an ideal vacation destination?

Yes, any tropical island with palm trees that have coconuts. You have to pick up the fallen coconuts to knock the ones that are ripe – that’s how the locals do it!

Do you have a favorite type of exercise or fitness?

Nope. I see patients from 8 in the morning until 5 every night, whether it’s in clinic or in the research enterprise. So all of my papers and my grants have to be written after hours and on the weekends. With that being said, it’s a passion. Although, by God, I need one of those tropical vacations.

Do you have a favorite type of food that you like to eat?

I like all types of food. As a matter of fact, in a past life, I was a chef. I worked in a quaint restaurant – one of those historic landmarks – the Blacksmith’s Tavern up in Connecticut, built in 1771. It was French continental cuisine.

I also worked with a Greek family opening up a whole series of restaurants throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which I really enjoyed. You got to write the menus and not just come up with daily specials.

Do you like to cook at home?

Every now and then I have a break, and I say, “I just cannot do anymore work.” Then I ask my wife, “May I cook today?” And she says, “Oh, god.” Because I still have this habit, you know, when you work in restaurants, and especially when you’re the chef, you don’t clean up anything. You cut on the cutting board and all the scrap you just sweep with your towel! All over to the side, all on the floor, and then people sweep up after you.

So, I still cook at home that way, and my wife knows if I’m cooking for the day it’s going to be wonderful food, but she’s going to be spending two or three days cleaning up.


Check out this video to see Dr. Jicha discuss how he helps patients as both a clinician and a researcher.


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