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Winners 01 press release [lst]
Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund
2010 – 2011 FINAL PROJECT REPORT SUMMARIES
The Alzheimer's and Related Diseases Research Award Fund (ARDRAF) was established by the Virginia
General Assembly in 1982 and is administered by the Virginia Center on Aging at Virginia Commonwealth
University. Summaries of the final project reports submitted by investigators funded during the 2010-2011 round
of competition are given below. To receive the full reports, please contact the investigators or the ARDRAF
administrator, Dr. Constance Coogle VCU
Severn B. Churn, Ph.D. “Neuronal Mechanisms of Trauma-induced Alzheimer’s Disease”
Several studies have shown an association between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the development of AD.
Recently, similar mechanisms have been associated with TBI-induced memory loss and the development of AD.
This investigation focused on the TBI-induced pathological activation of a neuronally-enriched enzyme,
calcineurin. Activation of calcineurin has been shown to result in the loss of dendritic spines, the major
communication route between neurons. Through several, carefully controlled studies, the investigator was able
to demonstrate a prolonged, pathological activation of calcineurin that resulted in delayed loss of dendritic
spines. In cortical, but not hippocampal, structures the spine loss could be prevented by the application of
calcineurin antagonists acutely after TBI. These studies are the first to identify a cellular mechanism through
which TBI could accelerate the progression of AD. (Dr. Churn may be contacted at 804/828-0290)
Vasiliki N. Ikonomidou, Ph.D. and Pamela Greenwood, Ph.D. “Detection of ApoE-related
White Matter Degeneration using Tissue Specific Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):
Sensitivity and Implications for Cognitive Function”
This study examined whether Tissue Specific Imaging (TSI), a new MRI technique sensitive to the detection of
white matter degeneration, and associated T1 quantitative techniques are capable of detecting Alzheimer’s
Disease associated changes in middle aged adults, thus potentially serving as a early-detection biomarker for AD.
It was anticipated that carriers of the ApoE-e4 genetic risk factor for AD would show a larger degree of white
matter degeneration as detected by TSI. While using TSI for differentiating between carriers and non-carriers
proved not feasible in the selected cohort, the data acquired is currently serving as the basis for further
investigations identifying differences between carriers and non-carriers, and the association of such differences
with both cognitive performance and brain anatomical changes. The dataset served as a basis for the development
of an automated technique for the detection of Virchow-Robin spaces, a marker of potential vascular pathology
that is known to have increased incidence in AD. Furthermore, the investigators are currently exploring the use
of texture analysis techniques to develop a more robust methodology for white matter characterization. (Dr. Ikonomidou may be contacted at 703/993-9354; Dr. Greenwood may be contacted at 703/993-4268)
Kate Lapane, PhD “Assessment of Factors which Influence Physician Decision-making
Regarding Medication Use in Patients with Dementia at the End of Life”
Few studies have examined he importance of rationalization of medications in patients with advanced dementia
nearing the end-of-life, and little is known about the impact of non-clinical factors on prescribing decisions. The
investigators evaluated the extent to which nursing home placement, family involvement, and advanced directives
influence prescribing decision-making in patients with end-stage dementia. A multidisciplinary team developed
four vignettes of patients with end-stage dementia with specific questions relating to discontinuation or initiation
of specific medications. Using a modified Dillman approach, the investigator invited a sample of primary care
physicians with an active Virginia medical license to participate via email. Of the 269 responders, 191 were
eligible for the study. They received vignettes that varied with respect to three randomly assigned factors: 1)
Place of residence of the patient (community-dwelling, nursing home); 2) Presence/absence of an advance
directive; and 3) Family desires active measures, family desires supportive measures, no family involvement.
Chi-square analyses were performed and a balance of potential confounds was achieved through randomization.
Continuation of therapies not likely conferring benefits (e.g. statins) was commonplace, regardless of randomly
assigned factors. Physicians were less likely to initiate antibiotic therapy for patients with advanced directives
(e.g. treating pneumonia with fever: 38% with advanced directives vs. 53% without (p
< .05). Medication
initiation was not influenced by family involvement or nursing home residence. Prescribing decisions for
patients with end-stage dementia may be influenced by non-clinical factors. Guidance on strategies to
discontinue medications may be warranted. (Dr. Lapane may be contacted at 804/628-2506)
Patricia Lacey, MBA, Sonya Barsness, MSG and Scott Sautter, PhD
“The Impact of Early Alzheimer’s Support and Education Programs
on Both Diagnosed Participants and Their Care Partners”
This study investigated the social and psychological impact of EASE (Early Alzheimer’s Support and Education),
a program intended to empower diagnosed individuals and their partners to become active participants in their
care. The study employed a quasi-experimental (switching replications) research design with validated
measures and a wait-listed comparison group. It was hypothesized that, in comparison with those assigned to the
delayed intervention group (n = 17), EASE participants (n = 20) would show improvements in personal self-
efficacy, mental and physical health status, and the quality of life for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
No statistically significant group differences were documented between the intervention and wait list groups, but
2 X 2 factorial and repeated measure ANOVAs showed main effects for time of testing on all three outcome
measures, and improvements in the intervention group were generally sustained three months after the program.
Comparing scores for care partners and those diagnosed revealed statistically significant interaction effects for
several of the health status and quality of life indicators. Scores provided by those with the diagnosis decreased
(worsened) from the time of pre-testing, while the scores for the care partners increased (improved). However,
both care-partners and those with the diagnosis indicated that the overall quality of life for the diagnosed person
improved,. Given the benefits of the EASE program documented in this study (e.g., , lessened depression,
improved quality of life, and perceived ability to handle unforeseen situations), it is surprising that the primary
hypothesis was not supported. It appears that there was a positive anticipatory effect for the wait-list group in
knowing that they would participate. Perhaps simply making the decision to participate in EASE improved their
outlook and knowledge of future participation influenced both self-efficacy and quality of life. Although early
stage programs have garnered some evidence-based support, additional research is needed to document new
models of support and education, and determine the long-term effects of these as the disease progresses. (Ms. Lacey may be contacted at 757/ 459-2405; Ms. Barsness may be contacted at 757/773-7841; Dr. Sautter
may be contact at 757/498-9585) EVMS
Serina A. Neumann, Ph.D. and colleagues “Donepezil’s Effect on Cardiac
Function in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease Through an In Vivo, Non
Invasive Measure of Peripheral Neuro-cholinergic Function: Relation to
AD is known to affect the nervous system in ways that influence heart function, which may place AD patients at increased risk for cardiovascular-related death. One of the very probable mechanisms of the subtle cardiac autonomic dysfunction in AD is degenerative damage of central nervous structures related to the autonomic nervous system and the influence of these neurodegenerative changes on higher cerebral functions. Involvement of peripheral nervous structures may also play a role. The characterization of changes in cardiac autonomic function in AD patients, however, has been scarcely evaluated. Furthermore, the effectiveness of treatment for AD with standard FDA-approved drugs like donepezil (Aricept®) may be related to the protection of heart function. This investigation measured both cardiac autonomic function (measured by heart rate variability) and mental thinking abilities in four elderly men while taking donepezil for suspected mild AD. The investigators found irregular heart function in two of the four patients; one during the initial evaluation and the other at three months. This study helped to characterize cardiac autonomic function and potential relations to neuropsychological function in AD patients in the early phase of treatment with donepezil, and adds to the understanding of donepezil’s effect on cardiac autonomic function in these patients.
Virginia Center on Aging/School of Allied Health/Virginia Commonwealth University
P.O. Box 980229/Richmond, VA 23298-0229/(804) 828-1525
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