Diversity is the Key to Alzheimer’s Research
When her older sister’s memory started to wane, Carolyn Banks wondered about her own brain health.
“Forgetting things, forgetting some words, forgetting some names. I was just concerned,” Carolyn says.
Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., a human geneticist and Director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, says research shows Miami-Dade County has the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the country.
“Hispanic and African Americans have one and a half to twofold increased risk of Alzheimer’s compared to people with, I would say with non-Hispanic European individuals,” says Dr. Pericak-Vance. “The goal is to identify people early enough, to identify those at the highest risk and then be able to intervene and prevent the process.”
Here in the lab at the University of Miami Hussman Institute, researchers work with blood samples to sequence genes. The goal is to identify the causes of Alzheimer’s and to help develop treatment and therapies for all populations.
“Everybody has these genes. Why does this particular variant, or this change, what is the mechanism that makes it give you an increased risk for Alzheimer’s? We identify the genes, then we have to understand the mechanism,” Dr. Pericak-Vance says.
Participation in diverse studies like the DAWN project is key.
“To try to get 13,000 individuals, 4,000 Hispanic Latinos, 4,000 African Americans, and then 5,000 Africans over the next five years,” says Dr. Pericak-Vance.
Carolyn joined to further Alzheimer’s research
“We did something with some numbers, with some drawings,” says Carolyn.
“Exercising your brain and social interaction is critical,” Dr. Pericak-Vance explains.
Carolyn stays active through her church. She hopes her involvement and UM’s work will help others, like her sister.
“I’m happy to be involved. Reaching out to the community to get involved. We need to be engaged to be educated,” says Carolyn.
Video transcript compiled by Janna Ross for ‘Focusing on You: Innovations in Modern Medicine,’ a series of health care-related stories airing regularly on WPLG Local 10. For more stories like this one, visit UHealth’s YouTube channel.