Health & Medicine

UC Davis Health wins $8.8 million in state funding for Alzheimer’s research

Leaders of UC Davis Health announced Thursday that the state of California has awarded its scientists and clinicians $8.8 million – or almost 42 percent – of a $21 million package earmarked for the study of Alzheimer’s disease.

UCD’s team plans to use the funding to study the role that racial disparities, diabetes, diet and infection can play in the disease, said Charles DeCarli, a professor in the UCD Medical School’s neurology department and the director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“As our population ages, devastating disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia are increasingly common,” DeCarli said. “Not only do these diseases have severe consequences for those affected, but they have substantial added burden to their caregivers.”

David K. Johnson, director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center in the East Bay, received the largest of the grants: $4.9 million. He said he will use it to address what he describes as an epidemic among older African Americans who are at the greatest risk for cognitive decline and development of Alzheimer’s disease.

As The Bee reported in mid-March, UC Davis researchers published a study they had done of brain tissue from 423 Americans of Latino, African and non-Hispanic white descent. It showed startling variations in the causes of dementia by race and ethnicity.

Among blacks whose brains were studied, 37 percent of them had markers for both Alzheimer’s disease and cerebrovascular-related dementia, 43 percent had pure Alzheimer’s disease, and 11 percent showed signs of only cerebrovascular-related damage. Scientists are seeing that many cases of dementia are linked to vascular damage, a risk can may be reduce with changes in lifestyle, dietary habits and early diagnosis and monitoring of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Johnson said the grant will help expand the clinical services of the East Bay center to include delivery and testing of a lifestyle intervention – diet, exercise and a combination of both – to treat older adults with strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes and associated cognitive decline.

“We are looking at fitness vs. diet and seeing if one is better than the other for specific people,” he said. “There are reasons to think that blacks and whites might respond differently to the different parts of the diabetes program. Finding the answers would allow us to tailor interventions to meet the specific needs of our patients better.”

Other clinicians and researchers at UC Davis, led by Thomas Jue, Yu-Jui Yvonne Wan and Xinhua Zhan, will look at the role that probiotics, obesity, gut problems, diabetes and bacterial infections play in improving cognition and reducing brain inflammation.

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