MAP Director Ted Huey Awarded Grant to Study Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Alzheimer’s Disease

Edward HueyTed Huey, MD, director of the Memory and Aging Program (MAP) at Butler Hospital and a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University, has been awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a research project aimed at better understanding the role that genetics play in the neuropsychiatric symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – a step that is crucial for developing effective treatments.

The project, entitled "The Genetics of Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Alzheimer's Disease in Populations of Diverse Ancestry," will be carried out through a collaborative effort between Brown University and Butler Hospital, and will involve a diverse team of experts from both institutions including neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, statisticians, and geneticists. Together, they will collect and analyze data about the neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS) that are reported in conjunction with AD.

NPS are non-cognitive symptoms that people with Alzheimer's disease often experience. These symptoms include aggression, psychosis, anxiety, apathy, depression, and sleep disturbances.

NPS can make life more difficult for Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers. Unfortunately, our understanding of the causes of these symptoms is limited, and the available treatments are not very effective.

NPS symptoms in Alzheimer's disease vary greatly among individuals. Some experience psychosis, while others do not. By studying the genetic basis of NPS, researchers hope to identify specific genes and pathways that can be targeted with new drugs and therapies.

In addition, certain racial and ethnic groups, like Hispanics and people of color, have historically been underrepresented in Alzheimer's research. However, these groups have a higher incidence of Alzheimer's disease and a higher overall rate of NPS. This means that we need to study these populations to better understand and treat the disease.

To do this, Dr. Huey and his team will analyze existing data from the Alzheimer Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP), which was established by the NIH and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to study the genetic causes of Alzheimer's disease. They will look at more than 80,000 samples to assess the role of ancestry in the genetic risk of NPS. By identifying population-specific factors and genetic characteristics, they hope to gain a better understanding of NPS in Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers are interested in studying ancestry as a factor that can be measured through genetic analysis, rather than relying solely on self-identification. Sociological factors, such as racism and social determinants of health, also play a role in NPS. Differences in diagnosis and interpretation of behavior may be influenced by bias or social factors. This study aims to assess the biological side of NPS first and then explore the sociological aspects in the future.

Treating the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can greatly improve the lives of patients and caregivers. It may even have an impact on the course of the disease itself. This research has the potential to benefit both patients and their loved ones.