Currently, there are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and over 15 million people caring for them. It is the only disease among the nation’s top ten leading causes of death that has no treatment, prevention or cure. But, here at the University of Wisconsin, we believe that memories matter. Our extensive research program is conducting basic, translational, clinical, and health services research. And, as the first and only combined School of Medicine and Public Health in the country, our faculty and physicians are committed to ensuring that the discoveries made here improve patient outcomes within the community, across the state and beyond.
Knowing that some of the most important risk factors—age, genetics, and family history—cannot be changed and hoping to understand the origins of the disease, UW physician-scientists began studying the children of people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) over 15 years ago. Today, UW has two major cohort studies following 2300 study participants over time: WRAP and IMPACT. Both are family history-based cohorts of adult children of people with Alzheimer ’s disease. The cohorts are complementary to one another. Started in 2001, WRAP is an observational registry—not an interventional study. Its focus is on identifying earliest signs of AD and factors that contribute to one’s risk or resilience for developing AD. In 2008, researchers saw the need to create an additional cohort (IMPACT) that was modeled on WRAP but created for the purpose of doing clinical prevention trials. This helped us keep WRAP a pristine longitudinal cohort study while also allowing us to conduct prevention trials. When links are found within WRAP, interventions can be designed based on those findings and tested in the IMPACT cohort. Thus, the cohorts have distinct but complementary purposes that will enable a faster path to proven preventions. Our teams of researchers utilize both cohorts in their research. This breadth and depth of data is unique to UW-Madison.
Through novel brain imaging, UW-Madison scientists are now able to see the cumulative progression of tau and amyloid protein deposits (thought to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease) in the brain. The collection and analysis of cerebral spinal fluid and other blood and tissue-based biomarkers are helping to answer questions about early indicators of the disease. Additionally, our scientists are exploring the impact of life-long social employment on disease risk and prevention, symptom-reversing medications, and unique risk factors in African Americans and Native American communities that make them more likely to develop the disease. With special attention to prevention studies we hope to find out how things like healthy diet, exercise, and controlling heart and vascular disease may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease or slow the onset of symptoms.
In order to advance our work, the UW Initiative to End Alzheimer’s is looking to identify $20 million to do the following: