Seton Healthcare Family and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin have started research into Alzheimer’s disease to try to figure out why some people develop it and why some do not.
They received a state-funded grant from the Texas Council on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders to participate in a multisite research program called the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium.
UT Austin’s Dell Medical School joins six other state medical research institutes in the consortium: Baylor College of Medicine; Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center; Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center; University of North Texas Health Science Center; UT Health Science Center in San Antonio; and UT Southwest Medical Center.
The consortium approached the medical school to become part of the group as it was being put together. “They were waiting for the medical school to be launched,” says Dr. David Paydarfar, neurology chair at Dell Medical School, who is the study’s lead investigator at the school. “The general mood at UT Austin is we have the tools, we have the people with the talent, let’s get going.”
The consortium started in 1999, and this research program began in 2006. “There’s nothing quite like it in the country,” Paydarfar said. “Texas is way ahead in some aspects of the rest of the country.”
The grant to Dell Medical School and Seton, which is $800,000 for the first year and a yet-to-be-determined amount for the potential of another four years, will allow Dell Medical School and Seton to enroll 100 people in the study by August and another 100 people after that.
While the medical school has the researchers, Seton provides the clinics and the ability to find people to enroll in the study. This is one of the first big grants that is a collaboration between the medical school and Seton.
One of the biggest goals of the study is early diagnosis and prevention. Researchers are looking for three types of people: people with no known memory issues, people with mild cognitive impairments and people with beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. In general, they are looking for people 50 and older.
They also are looking for Hispanic participants because of the higher rates of Alzheimer’s in the population and because Texas, unlike other parts of the country where research is being done, has a larger Hispanic population.
Each person enrolled has to have a care partner and will receive yearly medical exams and cognitive tests. During those exams, doctors take blood to look for biomarkers that might be an indicator of Alzheimer’s.
People in the study receive a small stipend but are volunteering their time for the extra blood tests and consent to participate in the process.
One motivation to participate is the possibility for early diagnosis through the testing being done in the study, says Dr. John Bertelson, a neurologist at Seton Brain and Spine Institute and the co-investigator.
All the data is being collected by the consortium. Researchers from across the country can then apply to see the data for their studies.
Alzheimer’s has proven a difficult disease for researchers to crack. The thought is that there might be multiple causes and risk factors.
“It’s a bit of a mirage,” Paydarfar said. “When we think we have a breakthrough, it turns out it’s not the answer.”
Bertelson said he remembers being a resident in the late 1990s and thinking that a cure for Alzheimer’s might be five or 10 years away.
“So frequently we think we’re so close,” he said, “but I do not see cure in immediate future.”
To enroll in the study, contact Alyssa Aguirre at 512-495-5236 or email Alyssa.Aguirre@austin.utexas.edu.