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September 21, 2016
Today, September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day, a date on which advocacy and research organizations strive to raise awareness for the neurodegenerative condition that affects, in our country, up to 5.4 million Americans yearly. At its current incidence rate, Alzheimer’s will affect 16 million Americans by the year 2050, with an additional individual in the U.S. estimated to develop the disease every 33 seconds at that point.
Despite the high prevalence and serious risk of Alzheimer’s in older adults, there is currently no cure available to stop its damaging effects on cognitive function and memory. To remedy this, a crucial aspect of World Alzheimer’s Day is furthering research towards better understanding the condition, and recently a major award was announced that directly supports this goal.
Last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) disclosed that it would use $40 million over the next five years to develop a new stage of research for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). Now in its 12th year, the ADNI is the largest observational study in the world, and seeks to develop and refine biomarker tools that can identify the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, and by extension, further clinical trials towards treatments and a possible cure.
The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), which already supports ADNI, expects an additional $20 million will be collected in private donations. The NIH and FNIH funds will be used to launch ADNI3– a five-year extension of the study focused on brain scans. In this phase, 1,200 volunteers over the age of 55 will join the 800 individuals currently participating in the ADNI at 60 research sites in the U.S. and Canada. The volunteers include people with normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment, and those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
As the disease causes rapid degeneration of brain cells and eventual “cell death,” ADNI3 will rely on the latest in imaging technology to observe Alzheimer’s-related brain changes in its volunteer study population. Using a variety of tools, scientists will assess white matter integrity, connectivity between brain regions, the buildup of amyloid protein plaques, and tau protein tangles– the last two recognized as common indicators of Alzheimer’s.
Ultimately, this data will be examined against Alzheimer’s-related changes detected in the volunteers’ blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and DNA– enabling researchers to better understand etiology in patients before overt signs appear. The ADNI, and now the ADNI3, are yet another real-world example of the power of philanthropic patients and the incredible value they provide today in our quest to discover the treatments of tomorrow.