News from the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital
April 28, 2021
Established with $30 million in gifts from two anonymous donors, the Center brings together biomedical research and discovery with world-class physician-scientists advancing care for patients with Alzheimer’s.
The center will integrate the expertise of scientists and physicians at Brown’s Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science and the Division of Biology and Medicine, home to the Warren Alpert Medical School, together with scholars leading projects in Brown's School of Public Health, its Department of Cognitive, Linguistics and Psychological Science (CLPS) and various centers including the Center on the Biology of Aging, as well as with Butler Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital and other affiliated hospitals.
University leaders say the center will build on Brown’s existing strengths in Alzheimer’s disease research, which range from the study of risk genes, cognition and the biology of aging to development of new therapeutics and care of patients with dementia. By linking together scientific and clinical work across these areas, the center will create a uniquely interconnected program with the goal of breakthroughs that change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Dr. Salloway, who leads the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital, a globally recognized clinical research center focused on Alzheimer’s, and an affiliated hospital of Brown’s medical school, has been a lead author on key Alzheimer’s studies that have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine and more.
The holy grail in Alzheimer’s research, Salloway says, is a simple, effective, widely available blood test for early detection of the disease — one that can identify who is predisposed to developing memory loss and other dementia symptoms, so that treatments can be administered as early as possible.
The gifts to Brown will aid in that quest by establishing a fully staffed fluid biomarker facility. The facility will enable researchers to collect from patients and analyze fluid biomarkers such as cerebrospinal fluid and plasma samples, identify gold-standard Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers, develop new hypotheses about the disease and assess the efficacy of clinical trial treatments.
"I would like to see Brown help to open the modern era of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, where patients can receive an early and accurate diagnosis and start on treatments that preserve memory and quality of life," Dr. Salloway said. "We are also entering a time where older people can safely learn about their risk for Alzheimer’s and take steps to keep their brain healthy — this center can help them do that, and the fluid biomarker facility will be an essential tool in enabling our success.”
Once up and running, the facility will serve as a bridge between basic laboratory science and clinical patient-focused research, Lipscombe said. Biological and brain science research will be informed by direct access to patient-derived biomarkers and genetic data, and clinical researchers will have immediate knowledge of novel disease targets identified through basic research.
Funding from the gifts will also expand a partnership with a renowned translational research team led by Oskar Hansson of Lund University in Sweden. Together, the teams at Brown and Lund will study a new cohort of 500 asymptomatic individuals to identify early biomarkers of cognitive impairment and ultimately, Alzheimer’s disease. Hansson and his colleague Henrik Zetterberg are two of the world’s leading fluid biomarker experts and are working with Brown on the establishment of the biomarker facility.
“The biomarker initiative is really a team effort,” Salloway said. “Brown faculty, working with researchers around the world, will help to develop combination treatments using precision medicine approaches that target key components of the disease based on the molecular profile of individual patients."
Brown President Christina H. Paxson said that with devastating consequences of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia impacting more families every year, the University will bring the full force of its scholars’ medical and brain science expertise to expedite progress toward new treatments. With faculty research fueled by federal funding, Brown ranks among the top 20 universities in the nation for research on the disease.
Nearly 60 principal investigators at Brown and its affiliated hospitals received a total of more than $40 million in federal funding for Alzheimer’s research in 2020 alone, earning Brown its top 20 ranking for research on the disease. And Brown-affiliated researchers are currently involved in 17 clinical trials of Alzheimer’s treatments, including at Rhode Island Hospital.
Salloway, at Butler Hospital, and Rena Wing, a Brown professor of psychiatry and human behavior associated with the Miriam Hospital, are principal investigators of the Alzheimer’s Association’s and NIH-funded U.S. POINTER study, a landmark clinical trial to evaluate the effect of lifestyle interventions, such as vigorous exercise, Mediterranean diet, heart health and brain training on the risk for cognitive decline. The launch of the center and the addition of new faculty and incentives for new research projects will build on a wide array of existing Brown strengths related to Alzheimer’s in biology and brain science, many of which are supported through that federal funding.
The $25 million investment from the new center’s lead donor, and the additional $5 million gift in support, mark major progress toward an initial fundraising goal of $50 million for the center.
"These gifts are a testament to the quality and depth of the research in brain science and brain-related disease at Brown. We are incredibly grateful to these donors for their generous support that will catapult Brown into the spotlight as a worldwide leader in AD research," Dr. Salloway said.
"Brown University’s strength in this sector is at an all-time high. Not only will current researchers be able to take their research to the next level with these gifts, but they will also be well positioned to recruit top talents and young investigators to the Brown community to amplify the tremendous work already being done here. This is a truly pivotal moment for Alzheimer’s disease research and we look forward to continued collaboration with our research colleagues around the world to advance the fight against Alzheimer's disease."
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