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Sanders-Brown Center researcher awarded grant to study Alzheimer’s prevention

Ai-Ling Lin, PhD

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year, $2.88 million grant to UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging researcher Ai-Ling Lin to study a drug’s potential to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Lin, an assistant professor at the Sanders-Brown Center, hopes to demonstrate that low doses of Rapamycin, a drug commonly used in organ transplantation, can restore brain function and prevent memory loss. Rapamycin is commonly used to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ.

“We hope our research will demonstrate that Rapamycin prompts tangible benefit by preventing the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” Lin said.

Unique testing methods

Her study is unique in that it will also assess whether a relatively new imaging concept called multimodal MRI is effective in measuring the success of other potential treatments. mMRI uses traditional MRI plus another form of imaging (CT scan or PET scan, for example) to provide complementary information.

“We have two eyes for a reason. You can function with just one, but eyesight is improved when both eyes work well,” Lin said. “mMRI follows the same concept: multiple layers of data increase accuracy.”

Lin will be studying the drug in mice with the gene associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. She will validate mMRI results with biological and behavioral tests to confirm the test’s accuracy.

A win-win

It will be a while before Lin’s research will be ready for human clinical trials, but mMRI as an alternative to other testing methods has the potential for speedy adoption, as the mMRI methods are readily available to be used in humans.

“Being able to test a drug and also a means of assessing other drugs in the future is truly exciting,” Lin said.

Linda Van Eldik, Sanders-Brown director, says that this latest grant is another important step in Sanders-Brown’s race against Alzheimer’s.

“As many as 1 in 5 people carry the Alzheimer’s gene APOE4, so the idea that a readily-available drug already demonstrated to be safe in humans might prevent what is arguably the most devastating and expensive disease in modern history is exciting,” said Van Eldik. “It’s a win-win for science and for the people it serves.”


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African-American medical research

How can medical research better serve minority communities?

A researcher at UK is urging her fellow health scientists to take a more holistic and thoughtful approach when it comes to studying dementia and other diseases in Blacks/African-Americans.

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD, a researcher at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, is the lead author of a new paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that encourages health researchers to be proactive in addressing the challenges associated with studying dementia in Blacks/African-Americans.

The paper, co-authored by researchers at Sanders-Brown, the University of Washington, Rice University and Rush University Medical Center, assesses the barriers that hinder minority recruitment for dementia research and the misconceptions that potentially distort research results related to minority populations.

“This study helps to identify problems in dementia-related research that are both historical and ongoing,” said Peter Nelson, MD, PhD, who works at Sanders-Brown. “You cannot seek solutions effectively until you are forthright about the problems.”

Race vs. socioeconomic variable

The paper argues that using race as a variable in research can result in inaccurate data interpretation. The authors point to several studies exploring genetic ancestral markers and race self-identification to demonstrate that race is not a dependable substitute for genetics.

“Race is, in many senses, a social construct that evolves over time due to social policy, cultural beliefs and political practices, and that risks misinterpretation of the differences between individuals who identify with certain racial/ethnic groups,” Ighodaro said.

Instead, she suggested that socioeconomic status variables such as zip code, income level, education, access to medical care and other social determinants of health need to be included in data interpretation, pointing to two recent studies that demonstrated socioeconomic conditions were a better predictor of stroke risk and dementia than race.

Historical factors

Ighodaro also identifies the horrific and unethical biomedical experimentation on African-Americans that continued into this century as one of the culprits for the African-American community’s persistent mistrust of physicians and scientists.

As a result, some African-Americans, who fear they are “guinea pigs,” are less likely to participate in research or donate blood or other biospecimens, which can decrease Black/African-American representation in dementia research studies.

Furthermore, the paper asserts, there is a need for efforts to increase the “diversity of thought and identity” among scientists, which studies show will enhance the quality and output of research collaborations.

“Scientists need to think holistically about the determinants of health when studying underserved populations and break out of the conventional and erroneous mindset that genetics are the sole cause of health disparities,” Ighodaro said. “And we must acknowledge and address the historical horrific mistreatment of Blacks/African-Americans in biomedical research as a first step towards improved minority research recruitment.”

“These barriers to what’s called ‘better science’ won’t be easily abated,” she says, “but they are critically necessary to align the quality of our data with all the populations we serve – minority or otherwise.”


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elderly care

Improving elder care through physician-pharmacist teamwork

A new study from UK researchers shows that when physicians and pharmacists work together more closely, care for elderly patients can be improved.

The findings, published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, show the value of physician-pharmacist teams in providing more coordinated care for elderly patients, especially as it relates to prescription medications.

As people age, the number of medications they’re prescribed tends to increase, which makes both patient care and medication therapy more complicated. In the U.S., patients over 60 take an average of five medications, many of which are prescribed by different physicians. This increases the risk of inappropriate drug prescriptions and side effects, including cognitive impairment.

Ensuring medications are prescribed appropriately is especially important for patients living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Anticholinergic drugs – used to treat nausea, peptic ulcers, lung disease, dizziness and other conditions common in elderly patients – are often the culprits of inappropriate prescriptions.

Although they sometimes prove helpful, these medications have also been known to result in cognitive decline. Therefore, it is essential to find the right balance between risks and benefits for each individual patient.

Creating a medication therapy management team

In order to examine this further, Dr. Daniela Moga from the UK College of Pharmacy and Dr. Greg Jicha from the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging partnered to conduct an eight-week randomized trial with patients from Sanders-Brown.

Their aim was to investigate whether a targeted patient-centered, pharmacist-physician medication therapy management team intervention could reduce the inappropriate prescribing of anticholinergics. The research was the first step in evaluating whether intervention can improve cognitive function in patients.

Their findings showed promise. Compared to the control group, patients receiving the intervention showed a reduction in the number of prescribed anticholinergic drugs. In addition, patients appreciated the opportunity to participate in the study and recognized the importance of optimizing their medical treatment.

Expanding the research

Now with funding from the National Institutes of Health, Moga and Jicha will follow a larger group of patients for one year, and further evaluate the long-term effects of intervention by a medication therapy management team.

Physicians are constantly managing risks and benefits of medications with patients, and sometimes the potential for adverse effects is not fully recognized.

“When physicians and pharmacists work together, everyone wins,” Moga said. “It’s clear that including a pharmacist on the patient-care team means better outcomes and better healthcare for patients.”

“This study highlights the benefits of patient-centered medical teams that improve drug choices and the health of elderly patients, many of whom have highly complex medical conditions and needs,” said Greg Graf, assistant dean for translational research and UK College of Pharmacy faculty member. “The project is a collaborative effort between the UK Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, and we’re proud of the work we’re able to do together.”

This research was funded in part by the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences, Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Women’s Health Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


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exercise memory

Could exercise help ward off dementia? UK study aims to find out.

Allison Caban-Holt

Allison Caban-Holt

Written by Allison Caban-Holt, PhD, of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging

Experts at the World Health Organization say that a sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide. We all know that being active can reduce our risk for diabetes, heart disease or even stress. But might it also help ward off dementia?

Recently, researchers have been studying the relationship between exercise and cognitive performance, bringing hopeful news about the benefits that exercise can provide patients who have degenerative brain diseases and cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is one of 15 centers pairing with YMCAs across the country for a study called “Exercise in Adults with Mild Memory Problems,” or EXERT. EXERT will explore whether physical exercises such as stretching, balance and range of motion versus moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise can slow the progression of early Alzheimer’s disease memory problems (known as “mild cognitive impairment”) in older adults.

Participants will receive a free 18-month membership to a participating YMCA, a free personal trainer for 12 months, a personalized exercise program, medical evaluations and the opportunity to relax, meet new people and have fun.

To be part of this trial, participants must be between 65 and 89 years of age, experiencing mild memory problems, and able to exercise four times a week at the Lexington High Street YMCA for 18 months. Other criteria for the study include general good health, no recent history of regular exercise and not currently on insulin.

For more information about participating, please contact Molly Harper, EXERT study coordinator, at molly.harper@uky.edu or 859-323-2978, or visit the National Institutes of Aging website.

You or someone you know might be able to help prove the idea that “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”


Next steps:

  • Sanders-Brown recently teamed up with The Balm in Gilead to raise awareness about memory-related disorders in the African-American community. Learn more about the partnership.
  • Alzheimer’s disease usually affects people who are 65 or older. If there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms of the disease.

UK partners with faith organization to address memory loss in African-American communities

Phyllis Wilson knows all too well the devastating impact Alzheimer’s disease can have on an individual and the family.

Growing up, Wilson watched Alzheimer’s disease take her mother’s life. Her painful memories of watching her suffer from the symptoms of the disease remain with her to this day. When she first started noticing signs of the disease in herself, she enrolled in a clinical trial at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, not just for herself, but for her children and grandchildren.

“I worry about what that did to my family. It’s hard to watch; I can’t describe it. I know I don’t want to be in that predicament,” Wilson said. “I read about a clinical trial at the Sanders-Brown Center at UK and I wanted to get involved. It won’t help me, but it might help my kids and grandkids.”

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out simple tasks. More than 5 million people in the U.S. are currently living with the disease, and that number could rise as high as 16 million by 2050.

African-Americans like Wilson are two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than Caucasians and are less likely to have an early diagnosis of their condition, which means less time for treatment and planning.

In an effort to the limit the toll Alzheimer’s takes in the African-American community, Sanders-Brown recently teamed up with The Balm in Gilead to raise awareness about memory-related disorders. The Balm in Gilead is a faith-based organization that addresses prevalent public health issues among African-Americans.

As an aspect of the partnership, Sanders-Brown developed educational materials to be distributed in churches and other faith-based organizations during The Balm in Gilead’s Memory Weekend event. Memory Weekend launched in Lexington on June 11 and was celebrated in 25 churches across Kentucky.

Awareness can lead to early diagnosis

There are no known genetic factors to explain why African-Americans are at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s. However, the known risk factors for the disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are more common in African-Americans.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that African-Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have a formal diagnosis of their condition because they are less likely to report symptoms of memory loss to their doctors. That’s why spreading awareness about Alzheimer’s disease among African-Americans in non-medical settings is crucial to early diagnosis.

Markeda Yarbrough, a clinical research assistant at Sanders-Brown, says the church is the single most important influence in bringing the African-American community together.

“It’s about building trust in a community where there is a great deal of mistrust of the medical community,” Yarbrough said. “Church members will often go to other church members with health concerns. It’s a place where members can go to other members who are knowledgeable and caring.”

Yarbrough said that African-American women tend to be screened for Alzheimer’s four to five times more than African-American men, who are more reluctant. If not diagnosed in the early stages, the disease may progress so far that treatments aren’t as effective.

Wilson says although she’s not comfortable approaching people to initiate a conversation about Alzheimer’s disease, she has no problem talking about it if someone were to ask her.

“I don’t want other people to have to deal with this disease,” she said. “When I think about what it did to my family, it kills my soul.”


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Sanders-Brown Center on Aging

Watch: 6 families coping with Alzheimer’s share their stories

Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the person with the disease; it affects their family and friends, too. A new video from the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging chronicles the emotional journey of the wives, sons, husbands and daughters whose loved ones have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Titled “Our Story,” the video debuted at the Sanders-Brown annual dinner celebration on April 13 and featured the stories of six families whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. (Watch the video below!)

Our Story shows how Sanders-Brown helps patients and their family and friends cope with the financial, psychological and emotional impact of the disease – and how many of them are giving back by participating in research at Sanders-Brown.

“Kentucky is so fortunate to have [Sanders-Brown] right in its backyard,” said Jon Vaughn, chairman of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation. “It seemed right to focus on the Sanders-Brown research, education and clinical programs, and its profound impact on the people who suffer in Kentucky and beyond.”

About 70,000 Kentuckians suffer from the disease, and someone new is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of the Sanders-Brown, reminded those in attendance that while there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Sanders-Brown is a world leader in efforts to find ways to slow down the disease process or cure it altogether.

In the end, however, Sanders-Brown’s mission isn’t just about numbers, test tubes or microscopes.

“It’s about patients and their families,” she said.

Watch “Our Story” below.


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UK nurse anesthetist tests new way to reduce post-surgery memory loss

UK nurse anesthetist tests new way to reduce post-surgery memory loss

No patient wants to remember the traumatic experience of going under the knife.

With the conveniences of modern medicine, anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists erase the memory and pain of invasive surgeries by administering medicines that induce relaxation and unconsciousness. Patients awake from a deep sleep with no memory of the surgery, the incision or the physical harm done to their bodies.

But 10 years ago, Zohn Centimole, a nurse anesthetist at UK HealthCare, noticed his elderly patients were concerned about short-term memory loss, which they attributed to anesthetics. While only temporary, the cognitive deficits caused by anesthesia can linger for several days post-surgery, a period of time when important medical decisions and conversations take place.

Investigating better anesthesia techniques

One of Centimole’s senior patients, who had experienced memory changes after a previous surgery, feared the same effect as she prepared for another surgery. Rather than worry about her postoperative pain and recovery, the patient was fixated on whether she would retain her mental capacity post-surgery.

“My conversation with her that day was one of those imprinting memories,” Centimole said. “Her fear was so sincere and impactful that I can still see her face and everything about the situation.”

This motivated Centimole to investigate more precise techniques of delivering anesthesia and minimizing exposure in middle-aged and senior patients. Centimole, a native of Plum Springs, Ky., harnessed the brain-reading capabilities of a Bispectral Index (BIS) monitor, an electroencephalographic (EEG) technology, to tailor anesthesia to the individual needs of patients.

A collaborative approach to research

Centimole recently defended his doctoral dissertation in the UK College of Nursing, which found anesthesia guided by EEG-derived monitoring was superior to the standard administration and effective in reducing cognitive decline three to five days post-operation. The Bispectral Index System (BIS) measures EEG and converts changes in real time to a score, which anesthesia providers associate with depth of consciousness.

The CANTAB-MCI (Cambridge Cognition) cognitive battery was used to evaluate patient cognitive performance before operation, three to five days post-operation and three to five months post-operation. With its touch-screen format, the battery reduces administrator bias and is cost effective. The EEG-guided technique showed to reduce the cognitive deficits experienced in the post-surgical period, with patients reporting higher cognitive functioning immediately after their surgery.

Collaborating with faculty members in the UK Department of Surgery, the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the UK College of Nursing, Centimole conducted an experiment to test the cognitive functioning of surgical patients. He compared those whose anesthesia levels were monitored through a cognitive battery with patients who received surgery without the cognitive battery, as well as a control group of individuals unaffected by anesthesia.

Centimole recruited patients for the study in the preoperative clinic, often recruiting a spouse as the non-surgical counterpart for the control group. Eighty-eight surgical patients were randomized to the BIS cognitive battery condition or the non-battery condition. Both experimental groups, as well as individuals in the non-surgery control group, completed the CANTAB neuropsychological functioning test. The test measures the test taker’s short-term memory, reaction time, verbal memory and visual learning capabilities.

Encouraging results

The 39 surgical patients who received the BIS cognitive battery condition demonstrated high levels of cognitive functioning post-surgery. Centimole also found that patients who smoked reported lower cognitive function post-surgery, suggesting a correlation between smoking and lower cognition after surgery. The results of the study suggest that EEG-derived technology has the potential to assist anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists in tailoring their care to individual cognitive characteristics.

“We were looking for a way to assess cognitive frailty in patients,” Centimole said. “Being precise and tailoring anesthesia will vary from patient to patient. EEG-derived technology allows you to balance exposure without unwanted side effects. We want to keep tight control over exposure, and this is what that device was engineered to do.”

Centimole believes EEG-derived devices can enhance care and improve engagement and alertness in patients who were disadvantaged by the memory loss caused during their surgery. Further, the CANTAB-MCI battery was cost-effective, and it showed the potential to help providers evaluate frailty in patients preparing to undergo surgery.

“The novelty of the project is knowing there is a relationship between EEG-guided anesthesia and cognitive function,” he said. “But we also present evidence that this cognitive battery is financially appropriate and has a great ease of use.”


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Though there’s no cure for dementia, there is some good news. By knowing the signs and symptoms, there are ways to limit the toll it takes.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of dementia

An Alzheimer’s disease or dementia diagnosis is devastating for everyone involved. Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, there is some good news. By knowing the signs and symptoms of the disease and recognizing it in its earliest stages, there are ways to limit the toll it takes.

Warning signs

Alzheimer’s and dementia usually affects people who are 65 or older, so if there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms.

  • Forgetting important information.
  • Lack of problem-solving skills.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
  • Using incorrect words.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Personality changes.

How Sanders-Brown can help

If you notice any of the symptoms above, consider making a memory evaluation appointment with the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. We’re a worldwide leader in Alzheimer’s and dementia research and patient care. In fact, we’re one of only 30 designated Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in the U.S. and have been funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 30 years.

Our experts are on the leading-edge of memory loss research, tapping into data from more than 800 volunteers – both healthy and cognitively impaired – to better understand how healthy brain aging occurs and why some people develop Alzheimer’s.

That research directly impacts patient care, allowing us to identify the disease earlier and provide therapies to our patients that can delay or prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Our comprehensive efforts to tackle this disease don’t end with the patient. We actively work with a patient’s family members and caregivers to help them understand how they can help their loved one.

“We often say Alzheimer’s is a family disease,” said Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of Sanders-Brown. “That’s why we’re here to provide outreach, education and support to help patients and their families get the help they need to lead active and engaged lives.”


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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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