Keck awarded grant for Alzheimer’s research

Three researchers from the USC Keck School of Medicine were among a group of medical institutions awarded a total of $70 million over the next five years by the National Institutes of Health to develop new infrastructure targeting Alzheimer’s disease research.

Keck professor Paul Aisen is the director of the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at the Health Sciences Campus in San Diego, where a new infrastructure for Alzheimer’s research will be built. Photo from USC Keck School of Medicine.

Two Harvard-affiliated hospitals in Boston and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota were also included in the award.

This infrastructure — the Alzheimer’s Clinical Trial Consortium — is a collaboration expected to make great strides in researching Alzheimer’s disease, which is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.

The researchers hope to improve efficiency for patient recruitment in clinical trials and technology that would assist with sharing data, instruments and blood and tissue samples.

“A new therapy for Alzheimer’s disease has not been approved in the past 14 years, and none of the approved therapies actually change the course of the disease,” Keck professor Paul Aisen told USC News. “This collaboration will remove some of the barriers that have hamstrung researchers from timely completion of clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”

The infrastructure will be built at the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at the USC Health Sciences Campus in San Diego, but the team hopes to expand to sites across the country with help from the grant.

Aisen, who is also the director of Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute, has been a leading figure in the field of Alzheimer’s disease research for more than two decades. He says that ACTC is a team of seasoned researchers who are focused on the stage of therapeutic testing, or “clinical trials.”

“In our efforts, we’ve learned a great deal about the disease and about potential targets and potential therapies,” Aizen said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “But all of our large studies have failed … and we believe we understand [why] now … We’ve been focused on treating Alzheimer’s dementia, which is what everybody thinks about when they hear Alzheimer’s but what we have learned as academic investigators is … that Alzheimer’s disease is a much longer disease than just the dementia stage.”

The race to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more urgent, Aisen said. Without immediate intervention, it is expected that the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will jump from 5.5 million this year to 13.5 million by 2050. With new infrastructure, researchers hope to discover more effective interventions to help treat and prevent the disease.

“Almost all of us have this disease in our families,” Aisen said. “It was my interest in having an impact on health care, problem of an aging population and seeing Alzheimer’s disease in my own family all came together to to interest me in this field.”