Brown University to Focus on Early Diagnosis, Treatment

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by Mary Chapman |

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Brown University is establishing the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research to build a world-class research program that is focused on the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

The center is made possible by separate gifts of $25 million and $5 million from donors who wish to be anonymous. It will bring together physicians and investigators at Brown’s Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science, and the Warren Alpert Medical School’s division of biology and medicine.

The new center will capitalize on Brown’s strengths in Alzheimer’s study, which includes research on “risk genes,” cognition, the biology of aging, development of therapeutic candidates, and patient care. The idea is that, by interconnecting scientific and clinical efforts across these areas, the center can create a program that will lead to breakthroughs. Brown is said to rank among the nation’s top 20 universities for Alzheimer’s research.

“This is truly a transformative moment for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research at Brown,” said Christina H. Paxson, Brown’s president, in a press release. “We have a robust foundation in place, and by bringing aboard new scholars, investing in facilities, and creating the infrastructure to connect the incredible work already happening in our labs and critical settings, our goal is to accelerate development toward novel treatments and cures in the fight against this devastating disorder,” Paxson added.

Despite scientific progress, there is more to discover about the biology of Alzheimer’s and related conditions. Because these are complex diseases, such discovery requires a multidisciplinary approach, said Diane Lipscombe, a professor of neuroscience at Brown who leads the Carney Institute.

“The aim of the new center is to convene that expertise at Brown,” said Lipscombe, who will will serve as the new center’s initial director.

“Ultimately, our work will contribute to a more thorough understanding of the most fundamental mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration, which will enable earlier diagnosis as well as the creation of treatments that will not just slow degeneration but also prevent it,” she said.

During Lipscombe’s five-year tenure at the institute, researchers advanced assistive technologies for communication and mobility, created new tools to chart brain circuits that control behaviors, and developed computational software that is shedding light on rhythmic brain activity.

“At Carney, we’ve been able to achieve a lot in a short period of time by working within the collaborative, cross-disciplinary environment that is Brown University,” she added. “With this Alzheimer’s disease center, we will similarly create the framework for scholars in basic science to interact with clinical researchers in our affiliated hospitals. When there’s a common drive to make an impact among so many talented experts across fields, that’s when you have enormous potential to really change the trajectory of this disease.”

Stephen Salloway, who leads the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital, and who will be the center’s associate director, said a major quest will be to find an elusive simple, effective, and widely accessible blood test for early Alzheimer’s detection so that treatment can start as soon as possible. To that end, Brown will establish a fully-staffed biomarker facility that will enable scientists to collect and analyze fluid biomarkers, develop new disease hypotheses, and assess clinical trial therapies.

The gifts also will enhance Brown’s partnership with a translational research team from Lund University in Sweden. The teams will study a new group of 500 asymptomatic patients as it seeks to identify early biomarkers of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

“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,” Salloway said.