NIH Funds Renewal of Grant Focused on Measurement of Early Symptoms in Alzheimer’s

May 31, 2017

A UW Medicine scientist is principal investigator of a project that has been funded for five more years to use state of the art statistical approaches to cognitive testing data applied to scientific questions in two important data sets: the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and the Australian Imaging, Biomarker & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing (AIBL).
Paul Crane, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, will serve as Principal Investigator of this grant. Colleagues on the grant hail from several institutions around the world, including Brown University, Indiana University, the University of California at Davis, Johns Hopkins University, VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, Boston University, and Rush University Medical Center.The National Institute on Aging (NIA) today announced its intent to commit $3.48 million over the next five years to this project. The project represents a competitive renewal of previous work on similar questions.

“Our group has been at the forefront of using modern statistical and psychometric methods to optimize scores for cognitive functioning in Alzheimer’s research,” said Crane, who is also an attending physician at Harborview Medical Center. “Our work in the previous cycle focused on memory and executive functioning. This cycle, we will extend that work to consider other cognitive domains. We proposed to use optimized cognitive measures to further our scientific understanding of the earliest changes on the road towards Alzheimer’s disease, and to further our understanding of variation in cognitive function among people who have Alzheimer’s disease.”

Crane says that the new funding will enable this talented group of investigators to pursue additional analyses. “We were very productive in the first cycle. Furthermore, the scores we developed for memory and executive functioning have proven to be very useful, as they have been used in dozens of papers analyzing ADNI data from investigator groups across the globe.”

ADNI’s principal investigator, Michael Weiner, from the University of California at San Francisco is enthusiastic about this new funding. “This highly impactful project will advance scientific methods for detecting brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease, leading to development of more effective methods for diagnosis and treatment," says Weiner. ADNI is a public-private partnership to fund extensive data collection on well-characterized older adults as a means to further scientific understanding of aging and Alzheimer’s disease. ADNI participants are enrolled at dozens of research sites across the United States and Canada. ADNI data are made available rapidly after acquisition. Investigative teams around the world have used these data in around 800 publications to date. ADNI has had multiple cycles of funding, and ADNI3 is currently underway.Crane is enthusiastic about this harmonization aspect of the study: “This funding will enable us to co-calibrate cognitive scores across these studies, which in turn increases effective sample sizes and permits ready replication in a separate dataset. This is a critically important scientific principle, and we are delighted we will have the opportunity to facilitate more valid cross-study analyses.  Three imaging analysis laboratories will use state of the art approaches to identify the neurobiological underpinnings of phenotypic variation across Alzheimer’s disease patients.” One of the exciting aspects of the new funding initiative is the opportunity to further harmonize data from ADNI and AIBL. These studies are landmark societal investments made by the US and by Australia. Efforts were made to ensure that the extensive imaging data from the two studies would be compatible and able to be harmonized.

AIBL is an Australian study of older Australians launched in 2006, also designed to further scientific understanding of aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Participants are enrolled from Perth in Western Australia and from Melbourne. AIBL’s study leader is Professor David Ames MD, FRCPsych, FRANZCP, professor of Ageing and Health at the University of Melbourne and Director of The National Ageing Research Institute. AIBL data have been used in around 200 publications to date.

ADNI and AIBL are members of the Worldwide ADNI initiative. This new funding will further the goals of that initiative. “It is just as important to harmonize cognition assessment as it is to harmonize imaging acquisitions across sites,” Crane says. “Our work will be instrumental in facilitating better analyses of Worldwide ADNI data.”