Research on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is getting a big boost after the National Institute on Aging awarded scientists a large grant to study how education affects the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Led by Chandra Muller at The University of Texas at Austin, the grant brings together an interdisciplinary team of neurologists, neuropsychologists, sociologists, education scientists, survey methodologists, biostatisticians, and neuroimaging experts from eight universities. Eric Grodsky, Professor of Sociology and Chair of UW-Madison’s Sociology department is a co-Principal Investigator on this work.
Over the next five years, the $50.3 million grant will support re-contacting surviving members of the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972—a nationally representative and highly diverse sample of over 14,000 Americans first interviewed as high school seniors in 1972—and gather extensive physical, biographical, and neurological data. Data will be collected from the participants, all of whom will be around age 70, through in-home interviews, health and wellness exams that include whole blood collection, and (for 500 people near one of five regional centers) brain scans.
“We know that people with higher educational attainment have better average outcomes in later-life cognitive functioning and are less likely to have early Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” said Chandra Muller. “What we don’t know yet is how, why, or for whom education protects people. This has made it difficult to design effective early-life interventions.”
This multi-pronged approach will study in extraordinary depth a large, nationally representative sample from high school through old age to yield unprecedented data in terms of its breadth and representation during key inflection points in the trajectory of cognitive decline. The goal is to tease out how much education matters in the context of factors such as socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. The goal is also to better inform early-life interventions, like the best ways to improve modifiable educational policies to reduce disparities in and later incidence of Alzheimer’s and related dementias
To complement these goals, each institution involved in the award includes an investigator devoted to community engagement, a milestone step in gathering biomarker data from underrepresented populations. Other Principal Investigators include Professor Rob Warren at the University of Minnesota, both in sociology; Jennifer Manly and Adam Brickman in neurology at Columbia University. Professors Mark Hayward and Paul Rathouz from sociology and Dell Medical School at UT Austin are also on the project as researchers. Other collaborating institutions include the University of California San Diego, the University of Houston, NORC at the University of Chicago, Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, and Rush University in Chicago.
This study is supported by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, grant number 1R01AG078533-01.