Home WFU School of Medicine: NIH renews heart health, brain study

WFU School of Medicine: NIH renews heart health, brain study

Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have been awarded a five-year, $27 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to renew funding for MESA-MIND, an ancillary study to the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).

In 2018, researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine received more than $18 million from the NIA to launch MESA-MIND to study the connections between heart health and brain health.

“In MESA-MIND, we are studying how heart health contributes to brain health in diverse groups of people,” said Timothy Hughes, associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the principal investigator of the study.

MESA was initiated in 1999 to study the characteristics of subclinical cardiovascular disease – disorders of the heart or blood vessels detected before the appearance of any clinical signs or symptoms – as risk factors that predict progression to actual cardiovascular disease. The MESA study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the NIH, included more than 6,800 people of European, African, Hispanic and Chinese descent who were between the ages of 45 and 84 and healthy at the time of enrollment.

“With this additional funding support from the NIA, we will further study the role heart and vascular factors play in developing brain abnormalities common in aging and Alzheimer’s disease that lead to cognitive impairment and dementia,” Hughes said. “We are especially interested in studying these risk factor differences in racially and ethnically diverse groups who are at higher risk for both Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease.”

Since 2018, the MESA-MIND study has enrolled more than 2,000 MESA participants to receive cognitive testing and brain imaging over two visits. The new grant from NIA will fund two additional visits over the next five years.

The research team will collaborate with 17 institutions around the country, including the six sites in the United States where MESA sees participants.

Cardiovascular disease is a known risk factor for dementia later in life, but exactly how it contributes Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is unknown. Hughes said that early subclinical changes in structure and function of blood vessels appear to affect brain vessels and the clearance of blood proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

“MESA has built the necessary infrastructure to examine the structural, functional and molecular ways that vascular disorders emerge in the body and brain,” Hughes said. “Now, we hope to identify the pathways that link subclinical vascular disorders to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”

*Press release on July 9, 2024


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