By Judith Van Dongen, WSU Spokane Research Office
SPOKANE, Washington – Washington State University will lead the creation of a new center to advance research into Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in Indigenous populations across the United States.
Funding for the new Native Resource Center on Alzheimer’s Disease and Minority Aging comes from a five-year, $ 2.8 million grant recently awarded by the National Institute on Aging, a component of the National Institutes of Health.
The center will be a collaboration between WSU, the University of Colorado at Denver and Stanford University, with additional expertise drawn from the faculty of other institutions.
Alzheimer’s dementia currently affects about 5.7 million Americans, a number expected to reach nearly 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is estimated that one in 10 people aged 65 and over has the disease, and its impact on Native American, Alaskan, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities is of growing concern.
“Indigenous people have made major strides in longevity over the past 50 years, which has tripled their share of the population among those aged 65,” said Dedra Buchwald, MD, director of the WSU Initiative for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) and a professor at Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, who heads the new center. “This will likely increase the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among Aboriginal people. At the same time, there is very little recognition in Indigenous communities of Alzheimer’s disease and its impact, as well as a lack of resources to effectively diagnose and treat the disease.
To address these health disparities, the new center will recruit, train and supervise junior and intermediate scientists interested in pursuing research on Alzheimer’s disease in Indigenous populations, with particular emphasis on Amerindian and Indigenous researchers. from Alaska, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and others. from under-represented minority groups.
Supervised by a mentoring team, these scientists will participate in an 18-month training program aimed at honing their research skills. The center will also provide funding to each of the researchers to conduct a pilot research study. These pilots will provide data to support proposals for larger research projects that researchers will write upon completion of their training.
“By expanding the scientific workforce in this field, we can begin to fill the knowledge gaps related to Alzheimer’s disease among indigenous populations,” said Buchwald. “This will ultimately help us reduce the health disparities associated with Alzheimer’s disease, promote prevention and treatment, and improve the health of Aboriginal people.”
The center builds on previous collaborative research on Indigenous seniors and Alzheimer’s disease conducted by Buchwald and his team at IREACH with colleagues from elsewhere. This includes the Center for American Indian and Alaska Native Health Disparities co-led by WSU and the University of Colorado at Denver; the Native Elder Research Center co-led by the University of Colorado Denver and WSU; and the Alzheimer’s Research Center at the University of Washington, where Buchwald is a member of the senior steering group. In addition, it draws on an extensive network of over 160 partnerships that IREACH has developed with tribes, tribal organizations and community programs in 15 states.