MIND Matters | Quarterly Newsletter | Fall 2020

Message from the Director

 

Dear Friends of UCI MIND,

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our lives this fall, the fight to solve Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) must charge forward. This November, the U.S. FDA will convene an advisory committee to assess potential approval of Biogen’s aducanumab, a monoclonal antibody in development for treatment of early AD. We will watch closely as aducanumab could be the first new approved drug for AD since 2005. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting and subsequent FDA decision – anticipated in March 2021 – this represents a milestone for the field.

Here at UCI MIND, our mission marches on as well. Our investigators continue to be highly successful in securing NIH funding for cutting-edge projects. UCI MIND continues to play leadership roles in training the next generation of AD researchers.

This includes a new national clinical trials program, and the addition of two new neuropsychologist trainees with the generous support of the Brethren Community Foundation. Essential to this focus is ensuring a diverse workforce of investigators, who can better recruit diverse participants to our studies. Support from philanthropists, like the Brethren Community Foundation, remains vital to our mission. We acknowledge the remarkable generosity of many of our supporters. Along with our investigators and research participants, you will be the reason we find solutions for ADRD. We thank you, happy holidays, and please stay safe.

 

Joshua D. Grill, PhD
Director, UCI MIND

 

 

 


The Power of Leadership

 

Brethren Community Foundation Board of Directors with Harriet Harris, center

More than 50 years ago, a group of leaders in Long Beach had a vision to give seniors their “rightful dignity” by providing them an affordable home, transportation, and a nurturing social environment so they may live stress free in the twilight of their years. The group, led by Willard V. Harris, Sr., transformed this vision into reality with the construction of the Long Beach Brethren Manor in 1964. Since then, this service has evolved into a new generation of Harris family leadership in philanthropic giving through the Brethren Community Foundation.

The Foundation supports youth education and senior health through philanthropic grants to non-profit organizations and individuals of all backgrounds in need of financial assistance. 

As a non-profit organization seeking to improve senior health through research and education, Foundation board member and daughter-in-law of Harris, Sr., Harriet Harris identified UCI MIND as a natural partner.

“Senior health is a critical component to our mission. UCI MIND is at the forefront of Alzheimer’s research, which is severely affecting our seniors and all of mankind. We wanted to step up to support the critical research needed to help not only today’s senior population, but also future generations,” said Harriet. Since Harriet facilitated the partnership in 2018, the Brethren Community Foundation has contributed $350,000 to research and training at UCI MIND. With its dual focus on education, the Foundation took a special interest in supporting fellowships for new clinician investigators focused on senior health. 

So far, the partnership has resulted in the recruitment of two neuropsychologist fellows, Jean Ho, PhD and Jung Jang, PhD. 

Dr. Ho’s research focuses on the link between blood pressure medication use in older adults and potential cognitive benefits. As part of her fellowship at UCI MIND, Dr. Ho will receive training in the design and analysis of clinical trials to test this association, which may have implications to future dementia prevention.  

Dr. Jang’s research focuses on the understudied emotional and behavioral symptoms associated with dementia, and she has already published several important findings on this topic. As a UCI MIND fellow, she aims to improve understanding of how vascular damage to the brain may contribute to these symptoms, hopefully providing insights to potential new assessments and treatments for dementia. 

The research training opportunities provided to these bright young clinicians were made possible by the vision and leadership of Harriet and the Brethren Community Foundation.

Drs. Jean Ho (left) and Jung Jang (right) were awarded UCI MIND Fellowships supported by the Brethren Community Foundation.

The Foundation considers its grant recipients partners in the mission to improve the well-being of its community, and UCI MIND is a proud partner and witness to the power of leadership demonstrated by the Foundation. Together, community leaders and UCI MIND can and will solve Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and improve circumstances for future generations. 

In demonstration of the Foundation’s continued commitment to this mission, they have offered to match, dollar-for-dollar, the first $100,000 raised before December 31, 2020 for new UCI MIND Fellowship opportunities. Click here to make a donation and see your contribution go twice as far.

 


UCI MIND faculty launch national training program to promote diverse leadership in clinical trials

 

UCI MIND, along with experts from across the country, launched a unique and comprehensive course this fall to educate and diversify the next generation of leaders in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

The program, called IMPACT-AD, is co-directed by UCI MIND director Joshua Grill and Rema Raman, director of biostatistics at the USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute. UCI MIND faculty Drs. David Sultzer and Dan Gillen are also part of this innovative program. It is funded for five years by a joint $4 million in grants from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Almost two-thirds of them are women. Older Black Americans are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites, and Hispanics are about 1.5 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites.
The purpose of the course, Dr. Raman said, “is to make the clinical trials’ workforce as diverse and representative as the participants we hope to recruit for our studies.” Out of more than 100 applicants, 35 were selected for the inaugural course, held virtually this past September. The group includes medical doctors, nurses, public health professionals, study coordinators and other scientists as well as postdoctoral researchers and research fellows from universities and health care systems across the country. Seventy percent were women and 40% self-identified as persons of color; one-fifth of the cohort were the first in their families to earn advanced degrees.

Said Dr. Grill, “With this new program, we really want to invigorate the field by engaging trainees at many levels, from many backgrounds, with different personal experiences and demographics as well, because we wholeheartedly believe in team science and the diversity of ideas will move the field forward.”

 

The inaugural IMPACT-AD class attended the week-long course via Zoom.

 


Music, Magic, and Memories

 


 

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Efforts to increase diversity in research participation

 

The UCI C2C Registry (left) and the new statewide registry, CARE (right), are now live in multiple languages.

The scientific evidence informing our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) comes from studies comprised overwhelmingly of non-Hispanic white participants. Far fewer data are available from other racial and ethnic groups, such as Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).  And even less is known about brain aging and dementia among diverse groups in their 90s and beyond.

Better representation of diverse racial and ethnic groups across the lifespan in research could offer insight into the burden of ADRD in different populations and lead to more effective diagnosis, treatment, and prevention for all people. In particular, it will be essential to know if new treatments are equally safe and effective in the diverse communities who need them. At UCI MIND, we are dedicated to increasing diversity in research studies to better represent all people affected by ADRD, and Orange County’s diverse community creates an opportunity to do so.

In 2016, UCI MIND launched a local recruitment registry – the UCI Consent-to-Contact (C2C) Registry – to raise awareness of research participation opportunities at UCI (c2c.uci.edu). We are excited to announce that this fall, the UCI C2C went live in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese to allow more people to access this online tool. Additionally, in partnership with UCSF, UC Davis and AAPI advocacy organizations, UCI MIND is now participating in a new statewide registry – the Collaborative Approach for AAPI Research and Education (CARE) – to support representation of AAPI in aging research (careregistry.ucsf.edu). Also in partnership with UC Davis, as well as the Kaiser Division of Research in Northern California, UCI investigators are helping establish a one-of-a-kind multi-ethnic cohort of individuals age 90 and older, called Life After 90, which will redefine our knowledge of dementia and brain pathology in the oldest-old.

UCI MIND continues to partner with an Asian American Community Advisory Board to increase participation in our longitudinal cohort study, and we have recently initiated a Hispanic Advisory Board and are seeking new members. Together with our diverse community, we will improve our understanding of ADRD in diverse populations and find solutions for people of all backgrounds.

 


Faculty earn competitive NIH awards for biomarker projects

 

Alzheimer’s Biomarker Consortium – Down Syndrome (ABC-DS) Award

Drs. Elizabeth Head and Mark Mapstone were awarded a five-year $100 million grant to study biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down syndrome. The ABC-DS evolved from the longstanding contributions of Dr. Ira Lott and Eric Doran, who had the insight to include older people with Down syndrome in Alzheimer’s disease research.  People with Down syndrome are at very high risk for Alzheimer disease as their extra copy of chromosome 21 leads to accelerated amyloid buildup with aging. The new grant will help researchers improve understanding of the unique disease progression in this population. 

 

 

Standardized Centralized Alzheimer’s Neuroimaging (SCAN) Award

Early diagnosis and tracking of Alzheimer’s disease progression are central to our national effort to identify effective treatments. Led by Drs. David Sultzer and Craig Stark, this new project will contribute novel brain imaging data to improve biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease and reveal their links to disease progression and clinical symptoms, such as early behavioral changes.  The project will also evaluate several cutting-edge, less invasive approaches to collecting biomarker information, which will be critical to accelerating Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials.

 


 

Upcoming Events

11th Annual A December to Remember Gala
Saturday, December 5, 2020 | 5:30 – 7:00 pm PDT
FREE Virtual Event | Register: gala.mind.uci.edu

2020 Facebook LIVE Q&A Series
Guest experts from UCI MIND
Monthly | 11:00 – 11:30 am PDT 
Facebook: facebook.com/UCIrvineMIND/live

Past educational sessions are archived on Facebook and YouTube

OC COVID-19 Resources

ASSIST Program for Isolated Seniors
UC Irvine | 714.497.0315

Virtual Caregiver Support Groups
Alzheimer’s Association | 800.272.3900
Alzheimer’s OC | 844.435.7259

Food, Housing, Financial Support
211OC | Call 211 or Text Zip Code to 898-211

In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Hotline
OC Social Services Agency | 714.825.3000 (Dial 4)

Mental Health Support
NAMI Warm Line | 877.910.9276
New Hope Crisis Hotline | 714.639.4673

 


 

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