The National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of California at Davis a multiyear grant of nearly $14.7 million to pinpoint the reasons why Latinos have higher rates of dementia than other American ethnic groups.
Nine other universities will take part in the UC Davis-led study. Researchers will examine conditions that can be precursors of stroke, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease among Hispanics.
They will also look at ways of reducing Latinos’ higher rate of such disorders. The rate of Alzheimer’s is 50 percent higher than the rate of whites, for example.
“This is the largest study of Latinos with cognitive impairment ever done,” Charles S. DeCarli, director of UC Davis’ Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said in a press release. “Latinos are the fastest-growing minority population in our aging population, so cognitive impairment in this group is an important public health concern,” added DeCarli, the study’s co-principal investigator.
Researchers will draw from data on more than 16,400 people who enrolled in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos between the ages of 18 and 74. The ongoing study has focused on cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases among Hispanics.
Researchers will also use information from Michigan State University’s Study of Latinos-Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging. The university is looking at possible links between genetic and cardiovascular-disease risk factors and the higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s among Latinos.
DeCarli said it is especially important to study dementia among Hispanics because of their higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, compared with whites. Those conditions are risk factors for both dementia and stroke.
UC Davis will use magnetic resonance imaging to check for the brain injury and deterioration typically seen in Alzheimer’s. The other universities will supply most of the MRIs. They include Michigan State University, the University of Illinois, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the University of Texas Science Center, Wayne State University, the University of Washington, the University of Miami, San Diego State University and the University of North Carolina.
“Advanced neuroimaging techniques can help us better understand the relationship between brain structure and function with aging and disease,” said DeCarli, who also directs the UC Davis Imaging of Dementia and Aging laboratory. “The information attained will help us to better design and monitor new therapies.”
One reason researchers will examine genetics’ role in Alzheimer’s is because of a contradiction in genetic links to the disease. Some studies have shown a connection between variations of the E4 gene and the early development of Alzheimer’s among Latinos whose roots are in particular countries. In contrast, some groups with high rates of dementia have a low prevalence of the variations.
“What else is going on than genetics?” DeCarli wondered in the release. “This grant will help us to advance this and many other interesting lines of research in this very ethnically and genetically diverse population group.” U.S. Latinos come from any areas of Central and South America and the Caribbean.
The study’s co-principal investigator is Dr. Hector M. Gonzalez, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State.
Gonzales, whose primary research interest is Latino health, noted that by 2050, Latinos will represent a third of the U.S. population. But the complex cultural and demographic mosaic of Latinos is often overlooked in studies of disease, he said.
The UC Davis Alzheimer’s program is one of 27 that the National Institute on Aging has designated a research center for the disease. The aging institute is part of the National Institutes of Health.
For more information about the UC Davis program, visit http://alzheimer.ucdavis.edu.