NIH Taps WFU For New Alzheimer's Research Center
North Carolina’s first Alzheimer’s research center funded by the National Institutes of Health will call the Triad home.
The nearly $9 million dollar grant establishes Wake Forest Baptist as one of 31 NIH-funded Alzheimer centers in the country.
Nina Silverberg directs the national program. She says she was initially drawn to Wake’s research into how diet and exercise affect cognition. Its focus on prevention was especially appealing to her given the National Alzheimer’s Center’s ambitious goal of providing a viable prevention or treatment by the year 2025.
“In order to do that we would have to have a medication in the pipeline now,” says Silverberg. “So, I think the research going on here, looking at exercise and some other non-[pharmaceutical] treatments…those have a lot of potential to at least help and to delay the onset [of Alzheimer’s].”
Silverberg says more and more data is coming in from around the country showing how exercise can improve cardiovascular health and brain function by increasing blood flow. One of her goals at NIH is to make the ground fertile for research sharing.
“One of the things that we struggle with is to help scientists interact more and advance their ideas quickly. We need to offer more opportunities to think more broadly about the disease, and [the Wake Forest Baptist Alzheimer’s Center] in particular has a different focus..." Silverberg says. "I think we need to expand our ideas as to what this disease is because it is very, very complex.”
Wake Research Director Suzanne Craft says their research emphasis began taking shape after studying various risk factors.
“One of the things that we’ve learned over the past few years is that illnesses that are very common, like diabetes and high blood pressure, can actually increase one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” she says. “So, the idea that you can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s by carrying out lifestyle changes that will improve your health is a new one, and it’s one that our center has embraced.”
Once people enter their mid-80s, they have a very high risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Craft says that at this stage in her research, she’s most excited about the prospects for early detection and prevention.
“The best advice we can give is to stay physically active. Stay socially active. Eat well. And that can offer quite a lot of benefit in terms of, if not preventing Alzheimer’s entirely, then delaying and making it less severe when it does occur," Craft says. "That is my recommendation until our research discovers a cure or prevention—and that is our goal. So, stay tuned.”